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US: No Direct Talks with Iran, Syria at Iraq Meetings


The Bush administration says there will be no direct talks with representatives of Iran and Syria at two upcoming conferences on Iraq. VOA's Paula Wolfson has details at the White House.

The White House has been under pressure in recent months to hold bilateral negotiations with both Iran and Syria on Iraq and other issues.

Officials from Washington, Tehran and Damascus are all expected to take part in conferences on Iraq. But even though they will be in the same room, White House Spokesman Tony Snow says he expects no direct discussions on the sidelines.

"There will not be bilateral talks between the United States and Iran or the United States and Syria within the context of these meetings," said Tony Snow. "These are organized by the Iraqis and these are on issues that are pertinent to Iraq."

At a briefing for White House reporters, Snow said the decision to attend the two Iraqi conferences does not mean there has been a shift in Bush administration policy. And he noted that this is not the first time that the three countries have all attended a multilateral meeting.

The United States has diplomatic relations with Syria, although ties have been strained by what the Bush administration sees as Syrian meddling in Lebanon and unwillingness to take strong action to stop foreign fighters from crossing its border into Iraq.

The U.S. severed diplomatic ties with Iran in 1979, and the Bush administration has made clear any improvement is contingent on a decision by Tehran to end its nuclear enrichment program.

Snow said that position has not changed.

"It is important that people understand that this administration is serious when it comes to the Iranians about a precondition for bilateral negotiations and also for diplomatic relations, which is they can't be working toward a nuclear weapon," he said.

Snow stressed the United States has long supported the idea of an international conference organized by the Iraqi government. An initial meeting of envoys from world and regional powers will be held in Baghdad on March 10. A follow-up gathering at the ministerial level is expected to take place in the first half of April somewhere in the region.

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