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Iran May Boycott Iraq Security Conference if Detainees Not Freed

Iran has signaled that it may not participate in an upcoming Iraqi security conference if the United States does not release five detained Iranians.

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister, Abbas Araghchi, told hard-line Iranian newspaper Kayhan Wednesday that Iran had warned the Iraqi government of the difficulty of attending a conference alongside U.S. officials if the five men are not released.

U.S. forces took the Iranians into custody in January in the Kurdish region in northern Iraq in the city of Irbil. The U.S. has said it suspects the men of having ties to an Iranian Revolutionary Guards unit, the Qods Force, that provides weapons and training to militants in Iraq.

Iran says the men are diplomats who were providing consular services to local residents.

Iraq is scheduled to hold a ministerial-level meeting in Egypt early next month with its neighbors and world powers.

The meeting is a follow-up to a lower-level conference held in Baghdad last month.

Tehran has expressed dissatisfaction with the choice of venue for the second meeting.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last week that the United States was not inclined to release the five Iranians.

The U.S. military also said last week it had received an informal request for an Iranian envoy to visit the five Iranians. U.S. officials say the International Committee of the Red Cross has already visited the five.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.