Iran General NewsIran sees "softer tone" from U.S. officials

Iran sees “softer tone” from U.S. officials

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Reuters: The United States is showing signs of softening its attitude towards Iran, an Iranian official said on Sunday, but added that Tehran had not yet decided to attend a meeting on Iraq with senior U.S. officials. By Fredrik Dahl

TEHRAN (Reuters) – The United States is showing signs of softening its attitude towards Iran, an Iranian official said on Sunday, but added that Tehran had not yet decided to attend a meeting on Iraq with senior U.S. officials.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Iran would decide after talks this week with Iraq’s foreign minister whether it would take part in an international conference next month to discuss the conflict in neighboring Iraq.

Egypt will host the high-level meeting of a group of countries that includes Syria, Turkey and the United States in the first week of May to discuss how to stop the violence in Iraq. The conference is a follow-up to one in Baghdad in March.

An Iranian newspaper reported earlier this month that Iran might not attend if U.S. forces do not release five Iranians they are holding in Iraq.

But Hosseini said Iran had not linked the meeting with other issues. “About participating or not participating, or the level of participation, this is still under examination,” he told a regular briefing.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki would hold talks with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshiyar Zebari this week, he said.

“After that we will announce our final decision,” Hosseini said. “The problem is the place and the context of the meeting,” he added without elaborating.

The U.S. State Department has said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to the meeting at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh and is open to direct talks with Iran over Iraq.

Washington has not had formal diplomatic relations with Iran since 1980, when it cut ties after the Iranian Islamic revolution and the holding of U.S. hostages.

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It accuses Iran of furthering instability in Iraq and has spearheaded U.N. sanctions against Tehran over its atom work, which Washington and others say is aimed a building a nuclear bomb and Iran says is for peaceful power purposes.

Hosseini suggested the United States was changing its stance towards Iran, saying in a response to a question:

“I agree with you on the softer tone from Miss Rice and in some American officials’ statements … it will be good if we witness this change in their behavior.”

“If there is goodwill and if they correct the behavior they have had so far this will create a chance for reconsidering the kind of relations we have,” he said.

Hosseini said he saw positive signs regarding the five Iranians held in Iraq, who Tehran says are diplomats but Washington accuses of links to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and of backing Iraqi militants.

“We hope the Americans would pave the way for their release as soon as possible,” he said.

In Baghdad, Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labeed M. Abbawi confirmed Zebari had received an invitation from Tehran and said the Egypt meeting and other issues would be discussed.

“We think that the presence of Iran and the rest of Iraq’s neighboring countries is important and necessary for the success of this conference,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Baghdad)

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