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Iraqi president in Iran for talks

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Reuters: Iraqi President Jalal Talabani arrived for talks in Iran on Monday amid growing calls for Washington to engage Tehran in dialogue to help stop Iraq sliding into civil war. By Edmund Blair

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iraqi President Jalal Talabani arrived for talks in Iran on Monday amid growing calls for Washington to engage Tehran in dialogue to help stop Iraq sliding into civil war.

Talabani’s trip had been delayed because of a curfew imposed on Baghdad following a bomb attack on Thursday that killed 200 Shi’ite Muslims. The curfew was lifted on Monday.

Political analysts said Iran might try to use talks with Talabani to show off its influence to the United States and bolster its position ahead of any dialogue with its old enemy.

They said Talabani, who speaks Farsi fluently after years of contacts with Iran when in opposition to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, could press Iran to stop seeing Iraq as a battleground in its three-decade-old fight with Washington.

Iran’s Fars News Agency said Talabani arrived for talks with top Iranian officials and would also sign bilateral agreements.

An Iranian official earlier told Reuters Talabani would go straight into talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after arriving and would leave on Tuesday after talks with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority.

Asked last week what his talks in Tehran would cover, Talabani told Iranian state television: “Strengthening relations and Iraq’s security.”

He said then he would be accompanied by Iraq’s oil, industry and technology ministers, and probably Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari.

INFLUENCE

The visit is the latest of a series of contacts. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki visited Tehran in September and secured a pledge of support for his government from Tehran.

Iran’s outspokenly anti-American president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said on Sunday Iran was ready to help the United States in Iraq but only if it pledged to pull its troops out.

Iran had invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the talks, but Syria did not respond.

Iraq and Syria agreed last week to restore full diplomatic relations, in an accord in which Syria accepted that U.S. troops should stay in Iraq while the Iraqi government needed them.

Syria has been accused of letting foreign fighters cross into Iraq. Iran is mainly accused of backing Shi’ite militias and exporting arms, a charge Tehran dismisses.

An Iranian political analyst said Ahmadinejad’s meeting with Talabani would in part aim “to show Iran has the influence and power to take the initiative before engagement (with the United States) starts”.

Analysts said Iran had powerful friends in Iraq, but its influence had limits. “I think there has been some exaggeration about Damascus and Tehran’s capabilities,” said Iranian political analyst Mashaallah Shamsolvaezin.

The New York Times said on Monday a draft report prepared for an influential panel considering U.S. alternatives for Iraq urged direct talks with Iran and Syria, but set no schedule for troop withdrawal.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi)

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