March 12, 2006

US denies asking for Iranian help in Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador in Baghdad denied
on Sunday seeking Iran's help to calm violence in Iraq.

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper said journalists in Tehran
had been shown a letter by a senior Iranian intelligence agent
that was purportedly from U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and which
invited Iran to send representatives to talks in Iraq.

"Ambassador Khalilzad has the authority to meet with
Iranian officials to discuss issues of mutual concern," the
embassy said in a statement.

"But he has not sent a letter in any language to the

The newspaper said the letter was written in Farsi, which
the Afghan-born ambassador speaks.

Tehran was open to a meeting, the paper said, citing a
source close to the Iranian government, but it would have to be
in a neutral country. Iran hoped this might eventually enable
them to have a dialogue about Iran's nuclear program, the paper

The U.S. and Iran have been arch foes, without diplomatic
relations, since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Tensions are high right now over Iran's insistence on
developing nuclear power reactors, a move staunchly opposed by
the U.S. and other Western powers who accuse Tehran of secretly
trying to build atomic weapons.

Some analysts and Iraqi politicians say Iran, close to many
of the leaders of Iraq's new, ruling Shi'ite Islamist parties,
has an interest in promoting some instability in Iraq to divert
U.S. pressure on itself.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said recently that
Iran was meddling in Iraq by sending Revolutionary Guards
forces into the country.