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11/21/06

United States Welcomes Dialogue Among Iraq's Neighbors

State Department spokesman urges Iran, Syria to back up words with actions

Washington -- Iran’s offer to help the Iraqi government curb terrorist and sectarian attacks is welcome -- if it means that Iran finally intends to discontinue its own contribution toward continuing violence, a U.S. State Department spokesman says.

“There have been positive statements from the Iranian government about wishing to play a positive role in Iraq,” department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said November 20, but “those statements haven't been backed up by action.”

“What we'd like to see the Iranian government do is desist first and foremost from negative actions it has taken in Iraq,” Casey said.

According to news reports, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad invited Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Tehran for a meeting November 25-26 to discuss ways to improve regional security.

The Iranian government has extensive links with many of Iraq's Shia-based political parties, many of which resided in Iran during the reign of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  Coalition commanders also have pointed to Iran as a leading source of training and equipment for Iraq’s Shia militias, as well as components used to build the bombs that remain the leading killer of Iraqi civilians.

The invitation comes as Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, the highest-ranking Syrian official to visit Iraq since 2003, continues a series of high-level meetings with Iraqi officials in Baghdad.

To Iraq’s west, Syria has also been accused of turning a blind eye to a steady stream of transiting Sunni militants from across the region seeking to fight coalition and Iraqi security forces and participate in sectarian attacks against Iraq’s Shiite majority.

“What we would like to see the Syrians do is to take steps to become a positive actor in Iraq and to not do things that would foment violence or that would help support violence there.  And I think the most important thing for the Syrian government is to look to themselves and take the actions that are necessary to help improve the situation in Iraq,” Casey said.

On September 18-19, both countries were among Iraq’s neighbors meeting in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and pledging to do more to help Iraq improve its security situation.  Talabani, as well as Iraqi Prime Minister Nurai al-Maliki, have met several times with senior Iranian and Syrian officials, Casey said.

It will be the democratically elected Iraqi government’s decision whether to take up Tehran’s offer, Casey said.  Media reports indicate that Maliki, already scheduled to visit Tehran, will be participating in the talks with Iranian and Syrian officials.

While the United States does not expect to participate in these talks, Casey reminded reporters that U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad is authorized to communicate with the Iranian government on issues specifically pertaining to Iraq.

In addition, the United States also joins more than 30 nations -- including Iran and Syria -- in the International Compact for Iraq, a U.N.-sponsored effort to help Iraq build a framework for Iraqi security, good governance and regional economic integration. 

“The problem is not what they say, the problem is what they do,” Casey said.  “So what would be, in our view, the next step would be to have them move beyond those words and actually take some concrete steps in that direction.”

A transcript of Casey’s briefing is available on the State Department Web site.

For more information, see Iraq Update.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

 

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