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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Iran invites Syrian president for talks-officials

TEHRAN, Nov 21 (Reuters) - Iran has invited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for talks in Tehran and, if he visits, he could join a summit between the Iranian and Iraqi presidents, Iranian and Iraqi officials said on Tuesday.

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is due to visit Tehran at the weekend for a long-planned bilateral summit with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

That meeting comes amid increased talk of diplomatic efforts to involve Iraq's neighbours Syria and Iran in helping to curb violence in Iraq and prevent a plunge into civil war.

Iraq and Syria agreed on Tuesday to restore full diplomatic relations in an accord in which Syria accepted that U.S. troops should stay in Iraq while the Iraqi government needed them.

Washington, struggling to control violence in Iraq, sees both Iran and Syria as sources of instability in the country.

"Ahmadinejad has invited him (Assad). But nothing has been scheduled yet," an Iranian official, who asked not be named, told Reuters without giving further details.

In Baghdad, a senior Iraqi government source said Assad might join the Iraqi-Iranian talks in Tehran but nothing was certain and, with the involvement of the United States in the process, last-minute changes of plan were possible.

"It's possible but not finalised. There's lots of debate and postponement on either side. I think the chances are greater that it won't happen," the senior source told Reuters.


A Syrian official with knowledge of his president's schedule had said in Damascus on Monday there were no plans for a tripartite summit.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman voiced scepticism that any meeting between Iran, Syria and Iraq could help to reduce the violence and said similar meetings in the past had not resulted in that happening.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan on Tuesday urged Iran and Syria to be "part of the solution" in Iraq and help the Baghdad government end sectarian fighting.

Annan said he had spoken with both the Syrian and Iranian presidents in recent days to prod them to help ease the conflict in Iraq.
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