- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

BAGHDAD — Iran agreed yesterday to join the United States and other countries at a conference on Iraq this week, raising hopes the government in Tehran would help stabilize its violent neighbor and stem the flow of guns and bombs over the border.

In an apparent effort to drive home that point, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told an Iranian envoy that the persistent violence in Iraq — some of it carried out by the Shi’ite militias Iran is accused of arming — could spill over into neighboring countries, including those that are “supposed to support the Iraqi government.”

Iraq’s other neighbors, as well as Egypt, Bahrain and representatives of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members have agreed to attend the meeting Thursday and Friday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik.

The conference will also include Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, raising the possibility of a rare direct encounter between high-level U.S. and Iranian officials.

In Washington, Miss Rice would not rule out a meeting with the Iranians, whose delegation will be led by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.

“But what do we need to do? It’s quite obvious. Stop the flow of arms to foreign fighters. Stop the flow of foreign fighters across the borders,” Miss Rice told ABC’s “This Week.”

Foreign Minister Walid Muallem of Syria, another country with which the United States has had limited contacts, told The Washington Times in an interview last week that he, too, was ready to meet with Miss Rice at the Sharm el Sheik conference.

Mr. al-Maliki’s office announced yesterday morning that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had telephoned to say a delegation from his country would attend the conference.

Iraqi leaders had been pressing for the Iranians to attend the Egypt meeting for weeks, but Iran had refused to commit, in part because of fears that it would come under pressure from the U.S. and others about its nuclear program.

In addition, the Iranians have been lobbying for release of five Iranians held by the U.S. in Iraq since January. The United States has accused the five of links to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit that arms and trains Shi’ite extremists in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The decision to attend “came after consultations between Iraqi officials and the Iranian president,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini said in an interview with Iranian state television.

Senior Iranian envoy Ali Larijani flew to Baghdad yesterday for talks with Mr. al-Maliki and other senior Iraqi officials — becoming the highest-ranking Iranian official to visit Iraq since the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003.

During their meeting, Mr. Larijani told Mr. al-Maliki that all countries that want stability in the region “have no choice but to support Iraq’s elected government.”

Mr. al-Maliki replied that terrorist attacks in Iraq would hurt all countries in the region, “including those that are supposed to support the Iraqi government,” according to a statement issued by the prime minister’s office.

Although Mr. al-Maliki did not refer to specific terrorist groups, it appeared that his remarks were not limited to Sunni insurgents, but included Shi’ite extremists as well.

U.S. troops in Baghdad clashed yesterday with Shi’ite gunmen in north Baghdad, police said. There was no report on casualties, but police said several gunmen were arrested.

Iraqi police reported at least 52 persons were killed or found dead yesterday, a relatively low figure in recent weeks.

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