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US, Iranian Officials to Discuss Iraq Security Issues

The State Department says U.S. and Iranian officials will meet next week in Baghdad to discuss Iraq security issues. U.S. officials say attacks in Iraq thought to be Iranian-supported have declined in recent weeks. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say U.S. and Iranian experts will convene in Baghdad December 18 for a meeting aimed at laying groundwork for a fourth ambassadorial-level session in a U.S.-Iranian dialogue on Iraq that began last May.

The discussions in Baghdad, which are limited to Iraqi security issues, are the first regular talks between the two governments since diplomatic ties were broken after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi agreed last July to set up a committee to advance the security dialogue and the meeting next week at the expert level will be under that format.

Senior diplomat Marcie Ries will be the U.S. representative. There was no immediate word on the Iranian delegation.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who announced the committee meeting in Baghdad said he was confident of another ambassadorial meeting soon, saying there are positive signals on that from both Washington and Tehran.

Previous sessions have been inconclusive, with Iran rejecting U.S. charges that it has supported Iraqi insurgent groups and provided them with armor-piercing weapons used in lethal attacks on American troops.

U.S. officials say attacks involving the advanced explosives have declined of late amid a general drop-off in insurgent activity.

In a talk with reporters Monday, acting State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos said U.S. officials hope Iran is prepared to contribute to lasting stability in Iraq.

"While we have seen a reduction over the short term, I think that what we are looking for is a reduction over the long-term, and a more cooperative stance overall towards what is happening in Iraq," he said. "And so obviously that is why we are open to this kind of discussion. We are hoping to see more traction and these discussions take place, and we will continue as long as we see productive movement."

Though the Baghdad channel is limited to Iraq issues, the Bush administration has said it is ready for an open-ended political dialogue with Iran, provided it halts uranium enrichment and returns to negotiations over its nuclear program.

That policy remains in place despite the report by U.S. intelligence services concluding that Iran stopped work on a secret nuclear weapons program four years ago.

President Bush said last week Iran has a strategic choice to make - to fully disclose its nuclear activities and accept the offer of dialogue, or continue on a path of isolation.