- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The United States is ready to hold new direct talks with Iran on the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the State Department said yesterday. The Bush administration accused Tehran of supporting Shi’ite insurgents there.

“We think that given the situation in Iraq and given Iran’s continued behavior that is leading to further instability in Iraq, that it would be appropriate to have another face-to-face meeting to directly convey to the Iranian authorities that if they wish to see a more stable, secure, peaceful Iraq — which is what they have said they would like to see — that they need to change their behavior,” spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

“It is important to directly convey to the Iranian government the importance of their changing their behavior, not only for the safety of our troops, but also for the future of Iraq,” Mr. McCormack said.

He said a date for the talks had not been arranged but suggested that discussions were under way on setting a time for the meeting, which would be the first between the two arch-foes since late May, when U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker met with Iranian officials in Baghdad.

That May 28 meeting marked a break in a 27-year diplomatic freeze. Since then, bitterness has mounted as U.S. officials have stepped up charges of Iranian involvement in the Iraq insurgency.

Earlier yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran was willing to hold a second round of talks with the United States over stabilizing Iraq in the near future if Washington officially asks for one.

Meanwhile, more sectarian violence in Iraq was reported yesterday.

American soldiers backed by tanks, helicopters and at least one F-16 fighter jet rolled into the eastern part of Baqouba, the capital of Diyala province, where police reported that gunmen had massacred 29 Shi’ite villagers the previous night.

In Baghdad, a suicide bomber detonated his vehicle near an Iraqi army patrol in Zayouna, a mostly Shi’ite area of eastern Baghdad. The attack killed 10 persons, including six civilians, police said.

Elsewhere in the capital, a car bomb exploded across the street from the Iranian Embassy, killing four civilians.

The fighting escalated north of Baghdad as America’s top general said parts of Iraq are undergoing a “sea change” in security, notably in Ramadi, where Sunni tribes have turned against al Qaeda in Iraq. Attacks against U.S. forces in that city have dropped dramatically.

“It’s no longer a matter of pushing al Qaeda out of Ramadi, for example, but rather — now that they have been pushed out — helping the local police and the local army have a chance to get their feet on the ground and set up their systems,” Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in Ramadi.

Meanwhile, the leader of a 30-member parliamentary bloc loyal to anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced an end to a five-week boycott of the assembly, which had stalled work on major legislation.

Nasser al-Rubaie said the decision was made after the government agreed to rebuild a Shi’ite mosque in Samarra that was destroyed in two bombings and to secure the highway from Baghdad to the shrine.