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Rice to Attend Iraq Neighbors Conference in Istanbul


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will attend an international conference of Iraq's neighbors and others in Istanbul at the end of October. The meeting being organized by Turkish and Iraqi officials will be a follow-up to a similar ministerial-level meeting held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in May. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are pleased over Turkey's commitment to hold the neighbors conference, which they say will be a useful vehicle for increasing support for Iraq's government, and for airing regional concerns including alleged Syrian and Iranian support for Iraqi insurgents.

Newly appointed Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Monday that delegates from the Baghdad government, all Iraq's neighbors, as well the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and the G8 industrial powers, will attend the two-day meeting tentatively set for October 31.

The meeting is a follow-on to an initial neighbors conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh May 4 that produced a joint communique in which all participants condemned violence in Iraq and pledged to support Iraqi democracy and sovereignty.

Although Iran was party to the statement, Bush administration officials, including Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker in congressional testimony Monday, say Iranian material support and training for Iraqi insurgents continues.

Crocker has held three inconclusive meetings with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad in recent months and diplomats of the two countries are likely to interact at some level at the Istanbul meeting.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran's refusal to halt interference in Iraq thus far has been disappointing but that efforts to dissuade Tehran authorities could yield results at some point.

"Obviously the Iranians can flip the switch on that at any time they choose. If they want to be helpful and play a positive role then they certainly can. Just because you have not yet seen a change in Iranian behavior at this point doesn't mean that you can't also continue to work on that and try to encourage the Iranians to do the right thing, to play a positive role," he said.

Rice held talks at the Sharm ek-Sheikh meeting with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem of Syria, which the Bush administration accuses of giving would-be insurgents safe passage into Iraq.

But she did not meet any Iranians at the May neighbors meeting, though ambassador Crocker and U.S. coordinator for Iraq David Satterfield did have an exchange with Iranian officials.

The two countries broke diplomatic relations after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and Crocker's meetings in Baghdad are the first formal dialogue between them since then.

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