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Iraqi President Open to Talks with Insurgents

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Iraq's president says he is willing to meet with members of the Iraqi insurgency. He and other members of the Iraqi government have previously ruled out talks with anyone who has planned or carried out attacks on U.S. or Iraqi forces, and especially on civilians.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani told reporters he would not rule out meeting with anti-government fighters.

Mr. Talabani said he is the president of the entire Iraqi republic, and therefore obliged to listen to all Iraqi citizens - even "criminals."

"So, if those who describe themselves as resistance in Iraq want to contact me, I will welcome them," he said. "I do not refuse to meet with any Iraqi who wants to see me, but this does not mean I will accept what he says."

The Iraqi president differentiated between terrorist groups like al-Qaida and Iraqi "resistance fighters." He had only harsh words for what he called terrorists, who kill women and children. But he also indicated that there could be some room for negotiation with Iraqis who are fighting only to evict foreign troops from the country.

Mr. Talabani called on those Iraqi insurgents to lay down their weapons and join the political process.

"We advise them to take part in the democratic dialogue," he said. "We believe that the real national resistance is the one practiced through politics, presenting its ideas freely through elections, through parliament and through political work."

Mr. Talabani was in Cairo for a conference on national unity, sponsored by the Arab League. The Iraqi government, dominated by Shi'ites and Kurds, has sparred with Sunni groups over whether to include former members of Saddam Hussein's regime in the talks.

The meeting's opening on Saturday was marked by sharp discord between different groups, but delegates say Sunday's talks were more productive. Delegates said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari, a Shi'ite, had lunch with Harith Al-Dhari, leader of the influential Sunni Muslim Scholars Association.

The main point of the Cairo meeting is to prepare for a larger reconciliation conference in a few months.

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