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Rice urges Iran to take part in Iraq Conference: Financial Times

London, April 23 -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged Iran to take part in the meeting on Iraq on May 5. She told the Financial Times it would be a "missed opportunity" if Tehran failed to attend.

In an interview published in Monday edition of the newspaper under the title of 'A return to realism' and 'How Rice is learning to play a weaker US hand', Rice also denied the Iran policy of President George W. Bush's administration had been directed at government change.

Egypt will host the high-level meeting of a group of countries that includes Syria, Turkey and the United States in the first week of May to discuss how to stop the violence in Iraq. The conference is a follow-up to one in Baghdad in March.

Iran has not yet decided whether Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will participate.

"It will be a missed opportunity if he doesn't, but obviously it's up to the Iranian government," Rice told the Financial Times.

As for Syria, another of Iraq's neighbors, the secretary of state said, "We have diplomatic relations with Syria. And it is not a matter of having an allergy to talking to certain states.

"But we have the neighbors' conference coming up. We'll have a chance to, in a sense, test the proposition that Iraq's neighbors have more to lose from an unstable Iraq than to gain from it."

"It is very clear in the package of proposals that were put forward would open up some possibilities of economic and political dialogue, even advantage. We removed our WTO objection so that Iran could apply for WTO membership. I think (America's stance) is perfectly clear."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran would decide after talks this week with Iraq's foreign minister whether it would take part in an international conference next month to discuss the conflict in neighboring Iraq.

An Iranian newspaper reported earlier this month that Iran might not attend if US forces do not release five Iranians they are holding in Iraq.

But Hosseini said Iran had not linked the meeting with other issues.

"About participating or not participating, or the level of participation, this is still under examination," he told a regular briefing.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki would hold talks with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari this week, he said.

"After that we will announce our final decision," Hosseini said.

"The problem is the place and the context of the meeting," he added.

The U.S. State Department has said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to the meeting at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and is open to direct talks with Iran over Iraq.

Hosseini suggested the United States was changing its stance towards Iran, saying in a response to a question.

"I agree with you on the softer tone from Miss Rice and in some American officials' statements. It will be good if we witness this change in their behavior."

"If there is goodwill and if they correct the behavior they have had so far this will create a chance for reconsidering the kind of relations we have," he said.

Hosseini said he saw positive signs regarding the five Iranians held in Iraq.

"We hope the Americans would pave the way for their release as soon as possible," he said.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed M. Abbawi confirmed Zebari had received an invitation from Tehran and said the Egypt meeting and other issues would be discussed.

"We think that the presence of Iran and the rest of Iraq's neighboring countries is important and necessary for the success of this conference," he said.

... Payvand News - 4/23/07 ... --

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