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Iran to Attend Iraq Summit; Rice Says Meeting is Possible

Iran says its foreign minister will attend a conference aimed at stabilizing Iraq later this week in Egypt. The U.S. Secretary of State will also attend, and says it is possible that she could meet with her Iranian counterpart. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.

Iran says its delegation to the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh will be led by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

The Iranian state news agency, IRNA, quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Iran will participate in the meeting to contribute to the promotion of stability and security in Iraq.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will also attend the conference, said she would not rule out a possible meeting with Mottaki on the sidelines of the summit. She spoke Sunday to the CBS television program Face the Nation.

"I would not rule it out," said Condoleezza Rice. "We will be there not to talk about U.S.-Iranian issues, [but] how Iraq's neighbors can help to stabilize Iraq. And I will not rule it out."

The conference Thursday and Friday is aimed at engaging Iraq's neighbors in helping improve security. Now that Iran has announced it will attend, all of Iraq's neighbors are expected to be there, as are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

If Rice and Mottaki were to meet in Sharm el-Sheikh, it would be the highest-level talks between Iran and the United States in many years. The two countries have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980, when they broke off ties after the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran a year earlier.

The announcement that Iran would participate in the Egypt meeting was made as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was visiting Baghdad to prepare for the summit.

U.S. military leaders in Iraq have recently been increasing their criticism of Iran, saying they have found evidence that Iranian weapons are being smuggled into the country to support Iraqi Shi'ite insurgent groups.

Iranian officials said the decision to attend the summit is not linked to the fate of five Iranian officials detained by U.S. troops in January in the northern city of Irbil. Tehran has been asking the United States to release the men. The U.S. military says they are suspected of ties to a weapons-smuggling network. Iran denies those charges and says the men are diplomats.