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US, Iranian envoys meet on Iraqi security issues

BAGHDAD -- The US and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq met yesterday for their third round of security talks in just over two months, a US official said, despite renewed military claims that Tehran is fueling the violence.

US Ambassador Ryan Crocker met with his counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, for about two hours after US, Iraqi, and Iranian specialists held their first talks as part of a security subcommittee, according to the US Embassy.

The high-level discussions were "frank and serious," said an embassy spokesman, Philip Reeker. He said they were held at the office of Iraq's national security adviser, Mouwaffak al-Rubaie, but gave no further details.

Washington has accused Tehran of fueling the violence in Iraq by arming and training Shi'ite extremists, but Crocker and Qomi agreed during their July 24 talks to set up a security subcommittee to carry forward talks on restoring stability in Iraq. The subcommittee also met for the first time yesterday in Baghdad, with the three sides sitting around three conference tables at an Iraqi government office in the heavily fortified Green Zone. Reeker said the sides agreed to meet again at a later date.

The diplomatic activity occurred a day after the number two US military commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Raymond Odierno, blamed Iran for sharply increasing its weapons and training support to rogue Shi'ite militiamen. He said such forces had launched 73 percent of the attacks that killed or wounded American forces last month in Baghdad.

That was nearly double the figure six months earlier, Odierno said. He believes Iran is trying to influence public opinion ahead of a pivotal report due next month to the US Congress on political and military progress in Iraq.

Tehran has consistently denied that it is arming Shi'ite militias.

In Washington, a State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said Crocker's meeting with his Iranian counterpart was a natural follow-up to the last talks between the two envoys and focused solely on Iraqi security issues.

"It was another frank, professional exchange about security issues in Iraq," he told reporters.

McCormack declined to say what prompted the meeting but noted that Crocker "has some latitude" to decide when to talk to his Iranian counterpart.

Yesterday, the Iranian delegation criticized what it called America's "suspicious" security approach toward Iraq and called for "a change in the broad policies and approach of the US" in Iraq during the expert-level talks, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.