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Holbrooke says Iran plays vital role in Afghanistan

Tehran, Feb. 16 (Mehr News Agency) - A top U.S. envoy to Afghanistan has declared that Iran clearly plays a vitally important role in Afghanistan.

"It is absolutely clear that Iran plays an important role in Afghanistan," Richard Holbrooke said in an interview on Sunday with Tolo TV, a private Afghan television network.

"They have a legitimate role to play in this region, as do all of Afghanistan's neighbors," The New York Times reported.

It was the latest statement by new Obama team signaling a clear shift away from the Bush administration's policy of avoiding direct talks with Tehran.

The Obama administration has been critical of Iran for its nuclear program and its support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups who are in conflict with Israel. But the comments here on Sunday by the envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, appeared to suggest that the new administration might also seek to use discussions with Iran about Afghanistan as one way to establish a broader dialogue.

Iraq says it intends to host Tehran-Washington talks

BAGHDAD, Feb. 16 (Mehr News Agency) - Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has stated that Baghdad intends to host talks between Iran and United States over the security situation in Iraq and called for maintaining "Iraq-Iraq-U.S. triangle".

In an exclusive interview with the Mehr News Agency, Zebari said the Iraqi government, given the current situation in the country, views hosting such talks as a priority.

He pointed out that Iran is "one of Iraq's most important neighbors" that is seeking "special relations with Baghdad with goodwill" and that Baghdad's relations with Tehran are of "great significance".

He added the U.S. influence in Iraq is also "undeniable".

Iran's foreign minister has ruled out holding new security talks with the United States over Iraq, saying improved security situation has made such talks unnecessary.

However, Zebari said there are issues that Iran and the United States should "settle between themselves", and in the run-up to "new Iraq" Baghdad favors cooperation between the three parties by maintaining "Iran-Iraq-U.S. triangle."

The foreign minister also dismissed reports that Iraq is showing leniency in expelling Mojahedin Khalgh Organization (MKO), saying the Iraqi government has taken its decision on the group and the expulsion will be strictly monitored by a "special committee".

The MKO has claimed responsibility for carrying out numerous terror attacks against Iranian nationals and officials, and has also been accused of assisting former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the slaughter of thousands of Iraqi civilians in the 1990s.

The MKO established a camp for about 3,500 members in Iraq, which its forces used to launch cross-border attacks into Iran. It fought alongside Saddam Hussein's forces during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Many senior Iraqi officials have assured Iran that the MKO members will soon have to leave Iraq.

Zebari also stated that Baghdad understands Tehran's concerns about the Iranian diplomats detained by U.S forces and expressed hope that Iraq's negotiations with the U.S. will lead to the release of the diplomats.

The U.S. military detained five Iranian diplomats in the city of Arbil, 310 km (190 miles) north of Baghdad, in January 2007. In November that year, U.S. officials said they would release two of the five diplomats.

... Payvand News - 02/16/09 ... --

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