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U.S. Says Happy To Work With Iran On Tackling Drugs

Glyn Davies
VIENNA (Reuters) -- The United States and Iran, whose relations are fraught over Tehran's nuclear program, have held a rare meeting where Washington said it was happy to work with Tehran on fighting drugs.

U.S. envoy Glyn Davies said he had met on March 5 with Ali Asghar Soltanieh of Iran, which is chairing the weeklong UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) meeting in Vienna.

"It is in our interest to participate with the CND," Davies told reporters today. "We are very happy to work with the chair even if he is from a country which we have differences with."

Soltanieh confirmed he had met with Davies but said it was only in his capacity as CND chairman and said it did not constitute a bilateral meeting.

"I will meet with all members of the commission, my office is open to all members," he told Reuters. "This week I am not in the capacity of my delegation."

Soltanieh is Iran's ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, including the UN nuclear watchdog.

He said he did not expect the delegation sent from Tehran would meet with U.S. officials in Vienna.

Washington and Tehran are locked in a bitter dispute over the Iranian nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing atomic weapons and which Iran says is purely for civilian uses such as generating power.

The two countries have had no diplomatic relations since the Islamic Revolution three decades ago.

Big Western powers, including the United States, are urging Russia and China to back a new round of sanctions against Iran after the breakdown of a UN-brokered fuel deal with Tehran aimed at easing nuclear tensions.

But the United States said today it was prepared to work with Iran on tackling global drug flows at the Vienna meeting.

"We had a very brief organizational meeting where I indicated to him that we look forward to working with him to get some accomplishments, some achievements, together in this area," Davies said in a briefing.

Tehran and Washington could try to work together on tackling the trafficking of drugs from Afghanistan, said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"There are certainly those areas of mutual cooperation and mutual support," he said.

Afghan Trafficking

Soltanieh touched on the theme earlier today, saying that the United States and Europe should help to bolster a regional effort to tackle drug trafficking from Afghanistan.

He said Iran's efforts to fight the flow of heroin from its eastern neighbor with Afghan and Pakistani authorities had been successful and that wider cooperation would be welcomed.

"Those countries which have been directly or indirectly affected by this [problem], including European, the United States, or other countries, they have to exercise and show maximum cooperation and feel the shared responsibility."

Afghan-grown poppies fuel a $65 billion heroin and opium market that supplies millions of addicts.

Europe, Russia, and Iran consume half the supply while U.S.-backed efforts have struggled to tackle opium production which helps to fund Taliban insurgents.

UN crime agency chief Antonio Maria Costa said it was important to have countries outside the region cooperate with regional drug-tackling efforts. "I hope that this [cooperation] is indeed in the making," he said.