Iran leader offers talks with Rome on Iraq, Mideast

Date: 11-17-06

By Stephen Brown and Phil Stewart

ROME (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has told Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi in a letter that he is willing to consult Rome on working for peace in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East.

"The letter makes a commitment to dialogue," Prodi told reporters, saying the letter had been delivered to him personally in Rome by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Saeed Jalili.

The United States and Britain recently raised the prospect of dialogue with Iran about neighboring Iraq, even though Israel is extremely critical of Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel's destruction.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has challenged Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq or face isolation, and a senior adviser to the U.S. secretary of state on Iraq said Washington was ready "in principle to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq."

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said after meeting Jalili that he had detected "Iranian willingness to help find solutions for peace and stability," specifically in "Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and the Middle East."

"This should all be proven by actions but Iran aspires to be recognized as a country with important potential in that part of the world," D'Alema told reporters.

He said Italy had expressed its "worry" about Iran's comments on Israel "which we don't find coherent with them saying they are reading to help pacify the region."

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in New Delhi on Friday that Tehran had "no reservations as far as negotiations and talking is concerned."


He said one "basic" issue was that Western nations' policy on Iraq had been wrong, adding: "We feel that they should bring about practical changes in their existing policies, otherwise negotiations for the sake of negotiations will change nothing."

The letter to Prodi was a follow-up to their talks in September at the U.N. General Assembly, when Prodi became the first European Union head of government to meet Ahmadinejad.

Prodi said afterwards that Iran appeared ready for nuclear talks with major powers but wanted flexibility from both sides. Talks on possible U.N. sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program are stalled by a split between the West and Russia.

The United States and European powers want to impose sanctions because Iran refuses to suspend nuclear enrichment activities which it says are for electricity generation, and they believe may be part of a plan to produce nuclear weapons.

Prodi, leading a centre-left coalition, has forged a new diplomatic profile for Rome since ousting conservative Silvio Berlusconi in April elections. Berlusconi concentrated his efforts on keeping close links with President George W. Bush.

Prodi mustered reluctant European support for a new U.N. peace force for Lebanon. Italy feels its historical links with Iran and lack of colonial baggage there make it a good interlocutor with Tehran and its protege, Hezbollah.

(Additional reporting by Kamil Zaheer in New Delhi and Francesca Piscioneri in Rome)


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