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Iran: Talks with US help Iraq security

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AP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that U.S.-Iran talks have helped improve security in Iraq but he rejected claims that the Islamic republic is fueling violence there, the state news agency reported. The Associated Press

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that U.S.-Iran talks have helped improve security in Iraq but he rejected claims that the Islamic republic is fueling violence there, the state news agency reported.

“The outcome of (U.S.-Iran) talks have helped stabilize conditions in Iraq a great deal,” IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Iraqi journalists in Tehran, a day ahead of his landmark visit to Iraq.

Iran and the United States have held three rounds of talks about the security situation in Iraq, and in recent months U.S. officials have cited a dramatic drop in violence.

Iraqi ambassador to Tehran, Abu Haidar al-Sheikh, called on Iran and the U.S. to upgrade the talks, which have been between ambassadors.

“From Baghdad’s point of view, the talks should be upgraded to the level of foreign ministers without conditions. The correct path is for Iran and U.S. to resolve their problems at the negotiating table,” al-Sheikh was quoted by IRNA as saying Saturday.

Al-Sheikh said a fourth round of talks has been delayed due to “technical” complexities but hoped that Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq will help set a date for a new round of talks.

The U.S. military, however, still periodically accused Iran of training, arming and funding Shiite extremists inside Iraq to kill American troops and on Saturday said they captured an Iranian-trained sniper instructor.

Ahmadinejad ridiculed the U.S. for such accusations, saying Iraq’s security was as important as Iran’s security.

“Iran has no need to intervene in Iraq. It is friendly to all groups in Iraq. Isn’t it ridiculous that those who have deployed 160,000 troops in Iraq accuse us of intervening there?” he said.

U.S. accusations that Iran is fueling violence in Iraq are aimed at justifying its “defeat” in Iraq, said Ahmadinejad, and claimed that the continued U.S. occupation of Iraq was the reason behind violence there.

“This is the temper of the Americans that they point fingers toward others wherever they are defeated … instability, divisions and tensions in Iraq result from the occupiers,” he said.

Ahmadinejad called on the U.S. to pull out from Iraq.

“We believe the Iraqi people are able to provide their security and administer their own country. There is no need for foreign intervention,” he said.

Iranian officials also touted their country’s growing economic ties to Iraq, particularly $1 billion in loans set aside for infrastructure projects there.

The previously announced loans will be earmarked to reconstruction projects conducted by Iranian companies, Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Reza Sheikh Attar told the official IRNA news agency late Friday.

The money “was among the main issues discussed with the Iraqi side,” Attar said, as he ended a visit to Baghdad as part of a delegation paving the way for Ahmadinejad’s visit.

The Iranian president also plans to inaugurate two power lines during his trip, Deputy Energy Minister Mohammad Ahmadian said.

He said one 400-megawatt electricity transmission line would run from the Iranian port city of Abadan to the Iraqi town of Alharasa, and another from Iran’s Marivan to Panjwin in Iraq.

A third electricity line supplying power to Khaneqin in eastern Iraq is already operational, Ahmadian said.

Tehran had previously signed a $150 million contract to build a 300-megawatt power plant in Baghdad.

Iraq and Iran were hostile to each other throughout Saddam Hussein’s regime and fought a long and destructive war during most of the 1980s.

But when Saddam’s Sunni regime fell and Iraq’s Shiite majority took power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, long-standing ties between the Shiites of both countries flourished again, though the two neighbors have yet to sign a peace treaty.

Iran’s ambassador to Baghdad, Hasan Kazemi Qomi, said last August that Iran-Iraq trade in 2006 totaled $2 billion — 97 percent of that exports from Iran into Iraq. Iranian Commerce Ministry officials say they hope trade will soar to $10 billion in the next five years.

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