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Iran, Syria, others to join talks

BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iraq’s neighbors, including Iran and Syria, have agreed to join U.S. and British representatives to discuss the Iraqi security crisis at a regional conference March 10 in Baghdad, the government said Wednesday.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he will be issuing formal invitations shortly to the neighboring countries and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members – the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China – to send deputy foreign ministers or senior officials to the meeting.

Zebari, in a telephone interview from Sweden, said Iran has agreed to participate in the meeting with the other neighbors but “they have some questions” about a meeting that would be held the same day with the five permanent council members.

Iran has had little public comment on the meeting so far. But in the past, Iranian leaders have been vocal in accusing the United States of trying to use the U.N. as a way to “gang up” on it, and the presence of the key Security Council countries at the Iraq meeting might give Iran pause.

For their part, Sunni Arab countries like Egypt still hold grave concerns about the direction taken by Iraq’s Shiite-led government, raising concerns the conference will make little headway on key issues.

The March meeting got a big boost Tuesday when Washington said it would attend, leading to the possibility it could discuss Iraq’s security with adversaries Syria and Iran.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi said the United States, Britain, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran had told the Iraqi government they will attend.

Syria and Egypt confirmed separately they would attend, but there was no immediate comment from Jordan or Saudi Arabia.


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