Officials from regional states including Iran and Syria will join US and British envoys at a meeting in Baghdad next month to seek ways to stabilize Iraq, the Iraqi foreign minister said Tuesday.
The mid-March meeting would be a chance for Western and regional powers to try to bridge some of their differences over Iraq, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said.
"Our hope is that this will be an ice-breaking attempt for maybe holding other meetings in the future. We want Iraq, instead of being a divisive issue, to be a unifying issue," Zebari said by telephone from Denmark where he is on a visit.
In December, the bipartisan US Iraq Study Group issued a report on the Iraq War in which it recommended the United States hold direct talks with Damascus and Teheran to persuade them to help stem the violence in Iraq.
US President George W. Bush reacted coolly to that proposal. Bush has not ruled out a regional conference to help Iraq, involving Iran and Syria, but the White House has indicated Iraq would have to set it up.
Iraq has been planning the March meeting for weeks, but until Tuesday it had been expected to involve only officials from countries bordering Iraq and other Muslim states.
The aim is to discuss ways Iraq's neighbors could help to halt bloodshed that threatens to tear the country.
Zebari said the meeting would involve deputy foreign ministers or senior officials from Iraq's neighbors.
Ambassadors from the five permanent members of the United Nations who are based in Baghdad have confirmed they will take part, he said. "Everybody agreed to attend after tough negotiations," Zebari said.
(China Daily via agencies February 28, 2007)