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US, Iranian Officials to Discuss Iraq

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Iran's foreign minister says Tehran will begin direct talks with the United States about Iraqi security later this month. From Islamabad, VOA correspondent Benjamin Sand reports the high-level meeting is not expected to touch on the ongoing controversy over Iran's nuclear program.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says the talks will be held in Iraq on May 28, and will focus exclusively on Iraqi security.

"Negotiation is limited to Iraq, in Iraq, and will start in the presence of Iraqi officials," he said.

Mottaki told reporters in Islamabad Thursday that the talks will be at the ambassadorial level, and a more specific agenda will be drawn up later.

The Iranian diplomat is in Pakistan for a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Conference.

The U.S.-Iranian meeting has been widely anticipated, but Mottaki is the first to provide a firm date.

Earlier this week U.S. officials said the talks would be held "soon," and would review ways in which Iran could play a more productive role in Iraq.

Washington has accused Tehran of supporting Shi'ite militants in Iraq and helping fuel the country's sectarian violence.

The United States also believes Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, and constitutes a major threat to regional and international security.

Iran denies both assertions, and hard-liners inside the country have strongly opposed the planned meeting in Iraq.

But on Tuesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave his backing for the talks - although he said the negotiations would be limited to Iraq's internal security situation.

Iraqi officials say the talks are a welcome and important step toward stabilizing the violence-wracked country.

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