June 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has held talks in Tehran with senior Iranian leaders, with both sides pledging to improve relations.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, speaking to Talabani in Tehran, said his country "seriously supports" the Iraqi government and accused the United States of seeking to undermine Tehran's ties with Baghdad. He called for a withdrawal of U.S.-led coalition forces from Iraq.
That call was echoed, in a different form, by members of U.S. President George W. Bush's own Republican Party in the United States.
"In my judgment, the costs and risks of continuing down the current path outweigh the potential benefits that might be achieved," Republican Senator Richard Lugar (Indiana), told a Senate panel on June 25.
Lugar, criticizing Bush's "surge" of nearly 30,000 more troops into Iraq, went on to urge a decrease in U.S. force levels.
"Persisting indefinitely with the surge strategy will delay policy adjustments that have a better chance of protecting our vital interests over the long term," Lugar said.
U.S. commentators called Lugar's break with the president on Iraq a "watershed moment" within the Republican Party.
White House spokesman Tony Snow downplayed Lugar's remarks, saying it was important to give the surge strategy time to succeed.
But further confirmation that dissent on Iraq is building in Bush's party came the next day. Senator George Voinovich (Republican, Ohio) added his voice to Lugar's, telling Bush in a letter that the United States must develop a comprehensive plan for "gradual military disengagement from Iraq."
Lugar, seen as a reluctant rebel and foreign policy expert, said the United States has vital interests in Iraq, including stemming Iranian influence.
In Tehran, Talabani's talks with both Khamenei and Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad were expected to also address the issue of renewed diplomatic contact between Tehran and the United States.
The United States severed relations with Iran in 1980 after Islamic revolutionary students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. But last month, Iran and the United States held their highest-level talks in which Tehran reiterated its call for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq and Washington accused Iran of arming and training militias operating in Iraq.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said earlier this month that Baghdad is working to set up a second meeting between Iranian and U.S. officials.
(with material from AP, AFP, Reuters)
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