US, Iran in talks on Iraqi violence

BAGHDAD - US and Iranian officials began their most high-profile talks in almost three decades yesterday to discuss Iraq's spiralling violence, which Washington says is fuelled by Iran.

BAGHDAD - US and Iranian officials began their most high-profile talks in almost three decades yesterday to discuss Iraq's spiralling violence, which Washington says is fuelled by Iran.

Iran denies the charge, despite the US military putting on display what it says are Iranian-made rockets, mortars and sophisticated roadside bombs seized in Iraq.

While mid-ranking officials from Iran and the US have met occasionally in the past, yesterday's talks are the most widely publicised bilateral talks since the 1980s.

Washington severed formal diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980.

US and Iranian officials do not expect any breakthroughs from the talks, which come as US warships hold war games in the Gulf and after Tehran said it had uncovered spy networks on its territory run by the US and its allies.

The talks are also overshadowed by Tehran's continued stand-off with the West over its nuclear programme, which it says is for the peaceful generation of electricity but the US says is being used to develop a nuclear bomb.

But only one item was on the agenda - Iraq, where sectarian violence between minority Sunnis and majority Shiites threatens all-out civil war that could spill into the region.

US ambassador Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi-Qomi met at Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's office in the fortified Green Zone in Baghdad. The two envoys shook hands before sitting across the table from each other.

Maliki, who was present at the start of the meeting, told the two delegations that Iraq would not be a launch pad for any attacks on neighbouring states, an apparent reference to Iranian fears of a US attack.

He also said US troops would remain in Iraq until they had completed their training of Iraq's security forces. Iran has repeatedly called on US forces to get out of Iraq. Maliki said Iraqis wanted a country free of regional interference.

"We are sure that progress in this meeting would enhance the bridges of trust and create a positive atmosphere to deal with other issues," he said. - Reuters

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