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Minister: Iran will attend talks in Iraq

CAIRO, Egypt --Iran's foreign minister indicated Monday his country would take part in at least part of an international conference on Iraq in Baghdad, which would be the first U.S.-Iranian contact in more than two years.

Separately, Iraq's foreign minister said his government would oppose efforts to involve the U.N. Security Council in plans to stem the violence in Iraq, insisting his country would solve its own crisis.

The Iraq conference, slated to start Saturday, is meant mostly to be a meeting of the war-torn country's neighbors to discuss calming the conflict there. But Baghdad also has invited the five permanent U.N. Security Council members -- the U.S., France, Britain, Russia and China.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said that Iran had some concerns about the Security Council members being there. It is unclear if the Security Council members would participate in just a portion of the Baghdad meetings or the whole conference.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Monday his government was in the final stages of making a decision about the conference in Baghdad, but added: "Some countries proposed a sub-ministerial level meeting and we agreed."

However, Mottaki made clear that Iran has reservations about Saturday's meeting, the official news agency IRNA reported.

"The Iraqi side consulted us in the past 10 days, and we pointed to some concerns," Mottaki said, according to IRNA. "All participants at the conference should aim to help the people and government of Iraq without decision-making from outsiders."

Mottaki did not elaborate Monday, but in the past Iranian leaders have been vocal in accusing the United States of trying to use the U.N. as a way to gang up on it, and the presence of the key Security Council countries at the Iraq conference might give Iran pause.

The conference will also be the first time Iranian and U.S. envoys have publicly come together since a meeting at an Egyptian Red Sea resort in late 2004 that was attended by then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi.

Zebari on Monday fended off comments made the previous day by Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who suggested that Arab governments may take recommendations they have for quelling the bloodshed in Iraq to the Security Council.

"There have been some ideas about internationalizing the Iraqi issue. This is totally rejected by us. The Iraqi government is elected by its people and it is able to deal with the situation," Zebari told The Associated Press in an interview at a downtown Cairo hotel.

Sunni Arab countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have been deeply disturbed by what they view as a Shiite bias on the part of Iraq's Shiite-led government as sectarian violence has flared in recent months. They also fear the Iraqi government is falling under Shiite-dominated Iran's influence.

Washington has also stepped up its accusations in recent months that Iran has been arming Shiite militias in Iraq and is secretly developing nuclear weapons. Iran denies the allegations.

Arab governments have pledged to send representatives to the Baghdad meeting despite their reservations about the country's direction. But Arab foreign ministers recommended Sunday that the Iraqi government redraft its constitution and rescind laws that give preferential treatment to Shiites and Kurds.

Among the recommendations were expanding the political process to achieve broader participation of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds, confronting sectarian tensions and working to eliminate them, speeding up constitutional reform and ensuring the equal distribution of wealth.

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Associated Press Writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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