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Iran's FM welcomes talks with US on Iraq security

Iran’s state news agency said Tuesday that the nation was accepting an offer for continued talks with the United States on Iraqi security and Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki welcomed a fourth round of discussions.

"Iran will give a positive response to this request," Mottaki was quoted as saying by IRNA, adding that the talks will be held "in the near future."

Iran has earlier said it would consider a new round of talks with the U.S. if requested by both the United States and Iraq.

Tuesday's imminent acceptance comes against a background of U.S. military reports that violence is down 55 percent in Iraq since a U.S.-Iraqi security operation began this summer.

"These talks ... are held within the framework of helping Iraqi stability and security and its people," IRNA also quoted Mottaki as saying.

Iran has long been accused by Washington of training, arming and funding Shiite extremists inside Iraq to kill American troops. But in recent weeks, U.S. officials have said Tehran appears to have halted the flow of arms across its border into Iraq.

Iran has denied the arms-funneling accusations, insisting that it is doing its best to help stabilize its embattled western neighbor.

Mottaki said Iran's consent for a fourth round of talks comes after Tehran received an official U.S. request for talks through the Swiss Embassy, which looks after American interests in Iran.

"The Swiss Embassy in Tehran has handed over to Iran a message from the U.S. government for a new round of talks concerning Iraq," Mottaki said.

There was no immediate confirmation from the U.S. embassy in Iraq or the Iraqi government that the request for the talks had been sent to Tehran.

Switzerland looks after U.S. interests in Tehran in the absence of formal diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington, which were severed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and U.S. Embassy takeover by militants in Tehran. The Revolution toppled the pro-Western Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and installed a hard-line Islamic government.

U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Ryan Crocker and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Kazemi Qomi have held three rounds of talks in Baghad since May on Iraqi but without much apparent headway.

The first round in May broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze between Iran and the United States. Crocker and Qomi agreed during their July talks to set up a security subcommittee to carry forward talks on restoring stability in Iraq.

The subcommittee met in August for the first time in Baghdad and agreed to meet again at a later date but no more information is available on the outcome of those talks.

Iran has also accused the U.S. of providing "support for veteran (militant) elements and giving terrorists a free hand in specific locations in Iraq."

Tehran insists that it supports Nouri al-Maliki's government to establish security and bring stability to Iraq, an apparent reference to the political crisis surrounding the Shiite leader.

Iran holds considerable sway in Iraq, where the majority of the population is also Shiite Muslim and where Shiite political parties have close ties to Tehran.

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