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U.S. to join rivals in summit on Iraq

New stance toward Syria and Iran may signal a move toward broader diplomacy.

February 28, 2007|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

The first, working-level session of the new talks will include "envoys," such as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Rice's senior Iraq advisor, David Satterfield. The second meeting is to include foreign ministers of all the countries present for the first session, plus those of the G-8 group of largest industrial nations. That meeting probably will be held outside of Iraq because of the dangerous environment in Baghdad, officials said.

The agenda has not yet been set, but the Iraqi government has been pressing its neighbors to try to cut off the flow of arms, militants and money across its borders; as a result, the discussion could lead to an exchange of views on U.S. claims that Iran has been sending sophisticated explosive devices to Iraq.

Iraq has also been pushing its neighbors to provide more economic aid, and to fulfill pledges of aid that have been ignored for years. By including world powers in the discussion, the Iraqis may hope to bring in more aid as well as expertise from new sources.

Baghdad has also been eager for increased political and diplomatic support from its neighbors. Several do not have embassies or ambassadors in the country. Some Sunni Arab governments believe that Iraq has been captured by a Shiite bloc and seek to limit contacts with it, Iraqi officials complain.

Though some U.S. officials have high hopes for the meeting, they acknowledge that the Iranians and Syrians may not participate vigorously, as has been the case at several meetings the Iraqis have organized, a U.S. official said.

Iraqi leaders face a delicate task in handling neighboring Iran, at various times a cultural, political and military patron to many of the former exile groups running Iraq. Isolated from the rest of the Middle East, Iraqis have come to depend on Iran for trade and energy. Iran's non-energy exports to Iraq totaled $1.3 billion since last March, the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce announced this week.

Iraq is eager to convince other neighbors, such as Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, that they have a stake in the country's future.

Shiite and Kurdish leaders of Iraq long have advocated a regional conference to bolster diplomatic support for the fledgling government. Many Iraqi officials have suggested that all the tools that have been used to bring about an end to recent civil wars in various nations should be brought to bear to halt Iraq's sectarian violence. That includes international conferences such as the 1995 talks in Dayton, Ohio, that brought about an end to the civil war in the former Yugoslavia.


Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Amman, Jordan, contributed to this report.

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