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Rice: US Hopes Iran's Influence in Iraq Will be Helpful Rather Than Destabilizing


(from left) Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Jean Asselborn, Condoleezza Rice, Javier Solana
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who may meet Iranian representatives at a Brussels meeting on Iraq later this month, says she hopes Iran is ready to support stability and democracy in Iraq rather than interfering in its affairs. Ms. Rice discussed the upcoming meeting Thursday with European Union officials.

Iran has been invited to the ministerial-level conference on Iraq's future June 22 co-sponsored by the United States and European Union.

If Iran does attend, it would not be the first time that the two countries have participated in meetings on Iraq despite the absence of formal relations between Washington and Tehran.

At a news conference with European Union officials capping a day-long political dialogue, Secretary Rice said Iran is a country out of step with the rest of the Middle East with its support for Palestinian rejectionist factions, the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, and with its nuclear program.

But she said the United States understands that Iran is Iraq's neighbor and said she hopes its influence in that country will be helpful rather than destabilizing.

"We would like nothing better than for Iran to be devoted to a stable Iraq in which Iran is not trying to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs, but rather trying to support the development of a stable and democratic Iraq. And I'll just make one other point about that, which is that I have never believed that the Iraqi people, having thrown off the yoke of Saddam Hussein, now wish to subject themselves to the rule of the Guardian Council of Iran," she said

Ms. Rice noted that the Guardian Council, a panel of clerics and jurists which has final say over Iranian legislative and electoral affairs, had summarily dismissed hundreds of would-be candidates in upcoming elections there. She said Iranian internal developments are not, as she put it, a very pretty picture.

The comments at the news conference here otherwise focused on the implications of the rejection by voters in both France and the Netherlands of the proposed European constitution.

Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, the current European Union president, said he still hoped the constitution can be salvaged, and that he is optimistic the July 10 referendum on the document in his own country will reverse what he termed this negative dynamic.

Austrian diplomat Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU External Relations Commissioner, insisted the election defeats have not impaired the European Union's ability to conduct foreign policy.

"Of course, the vote in France and now especially in the Netherlands, these are real important, serious setbacks. But at the same time, of course, we continue to work and nothing does prevent us from carrying all the important work in cooperation with the U.S. and I think this meeting shows it. We are able to work with you as well today as we did yesterday," he said.

The talks here also covered plans for the U.S.-European Union summit meeting in Washington later this month, Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and the situation in Lebanon, including the car-bomb assassination Thursday of a prominent Lebanese journalist, Samir Kassir.

Both Secretary Rice and EU chief diplomat Javier Solana condemned the killing. Ms. Rice urged a full investigation of what she termed a heinous act, which she said was obviously aimed at intimidating the Lebanese people amid their parliamentary elections.

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