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Iraq Transition

U.S., Iran and Syria may talk face to face about Iraq

Story Highlights

• NEW: Forum to discuss Iraq will join regional neighbors and G-8
• Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari calls forum a potential "ice-breaker"
• Zebari: It's unclear if there will be direct talks between U.S., Iran and Syria
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States and its adversaries in Iran and Syria may for the first time since the Iraq war began meet face to face at a conference next month to discuss the situation in Iraq.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. supports the forum, which will take place in the first half of March in Iraq.

It could set the stage for a ministerial-level meeting in April that will include the Group of Eight -- the U.S., Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia -- and Iraq's neighbors -- Syria, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey.

Multilateral organizations and China -- the only permanent member of the U.N. Security Council which is not in the G-8 -- will also be invited, Rice said.

Speaking about Iran and Syria, Rice told the Senate Appropriations Committee, "We hope these governments seize this opportunity to improve their relations with Iraq -- and to work for peace and stability in the region."

Relations between Washington and Tehran are already tense over Iran's nuclear program. The United States is pushing the Security Council to impose trade restrictions on Iran.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, interviewed by CNN, said the March meeting will serve as an ice-breaker to help reduce tensions.

"We hope to be in the same room and to have an open and frank discussion about our mutual concerns and interests," said Zebari, who believes that such a meeting would be a proper platform for important issues.

The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations.

Asked whether the U.S. ambassador to Iraq has been invited, a U.S. Embassy in Baghdad spokesman said, "Yes, we have been invited. Yes, he will attend."

It isn't clear whether it will be outgoing Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad or the man named to be his successor, Ryan Crocker.

A senior U.S. State Department official said this is an "opportunity for all attending to talk about Iraq."

The official said Iraqis will set the agenda, with topics likely to be national reconciliation and building Iraq's economy

As to whether there will be direct talks with Iran and Syria, the U.S. official said that at this point "we can't predict the direction of the discussion or interaction."

"We'll see."

Rice called the efforts part of an Iraqi-led "diplomatic offensive" to build greater support for peace in Iraq.

She noted that fostering support from Iraqi neighbors is a key element of the Iraq Study Group findings.

"The violence occurring within the country has a decided impact on Iraq's neighbors," she said.

"And Iraq's neighbors, as well as the international community, have a clear role to play in supporting the Iraqi government's efforts to promote peace and national reconciliation within the country."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN it is unclear if there will be direct talks between U.S. and Syria and Iran at an upcoming conference on Iraq.


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