Iraqi Shiite Leader Calls for U.S.-Iran Talks

By NAZILA FATHI

New York Times

February 5, 2007

TEHRAN, Feb. 5 — A senior Iraqi Shiite leader said on Monday in Tehran that his country had urged Iran to hold talks with the United States and that such talks were important for the security of the region.

“Given the special conditions in the region, talks between the United States and Iran are of the utmost importance,” Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq’s most powerful Shiite leaders, said according to the ISNA news agency at a news conference after meeting with the chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Larijani.

“Negotiations between Iran and the United States are useful for the whole region,” added Mr. Hakim, who lived in Iran in exile during Saddam Hussein’s rule in Iraq and who has close ties with Iranian leaders. But Mr. Hakim said he did not have any specific messages on the subject.

Other Iraqi officials have also urged Iran to hold talks with the United States. Iran has said it is open to the idea. The United States has refused to hold direct talks with Iran over Iraq or over Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Hakim also held talks on Monday with Iran’s supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The details of the discussion in Tehran were not revealed. Mr. Larijani said only that the two sides discussed “security, economic and bilateral ties,” ISNA reported.

However, analysts speculated that they might have discussed the fate of six Iranians who were arrested by American forces in a raid on an Iranian consulate in Erbil last month. Mr. Hakim said Monday that the Iraqi government was continuing its efforts for their release.

Numerous diplomats have traveled to Iran in the past month as tension has grown over its nuclear program and its role in Iraq. The visitors have included the foreign ministers of Qatar and Syria, an envoy from Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s security minister, Shirwan al-Waili.

European diplomats said Monday that Iran had set up two cascades of 164 centrifuges each in its underground nuclear plant, laying a basis for full-scale enrichment of uranium and increasing the stakes in its standoff with the West over its plans to enrich uranium, Reuters reported.

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan visited on Monday, meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ISNA reported that the two sides discussed a natural gas pipeline between Iran and India, which would cross Pakistan. The United States has been critical of the proposal. ISNA said the men also discussed Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

India’s foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, is expected to be in Tehran on Tuesday to discuss the proposed pipeline.