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US Prepares For Iraq Conference

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, says there are indications Iran may be interested in talking to the United States at the upcoming Iraq conference in Baghdad. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House, Khalilzad will represent the Bush administration at the talks, which are scheduled for March 10.

Ambassador Khalilzad says there are signs from Tehran that the Iranian government may be willing to talk.

"There have been some recent indications that they are interested in a dialogue with regard to Iraq," said Zalmay Khalilzad.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Khalilzad stressed he has not received any instructions from Washington regarding the conference. All the same, he did not close the door on the possibility of some sort of discussions with Iranian officials. He said the goal is to find ways for Iraq's neighbors to help end the bloodshed.

"We have not decided at this point with regard to anything bilateral, but we will be prepared to play our role as constructively as possible," he said.

Khalilzad made clear there is one issue he would want to raise with the Iranians, should the opportunity arise. He pointed to evidence that some of the armor-piercing roadside bombs that have shown up in Iraq have markings indicating components were manufactured in Iran.

"The purpose of any talks, should they take place, bilateral talks, will be very much the security of our forces," noted Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Bush administration is coming under increasing pressure to reach out directly to Iran and Syria. The United States has accused them of helping to instigate violence in Iraq, a charge both Tehran and Damascus have denied. Washington has diplomatic relations with Syria, but severed ties with Iran in 1979.

Speaking on the FOX News Sunday program, Senator Diane Feinstein, a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged the White House to seize on the opportunity presented by the Iraq conference. The California Democrat said direct diplomacy is needed, not just on Iraq, but on the dispute surrounding Iran's nuclear program.

"I think that is exactly the way to go, to bring the light of day and the preponderance of nations into this effort," said Diane Feinstein.

Last year, the White House authorized Ambassador Khalilzad to hold one-on-one discussions on Iraq with Iranian officials in the region. At the time, the Iranians refused and the hope for direct talks was never fulfilled.