TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran is studying a proposal it received from Iraqi officials to hold security talks with the U.S. in January, the Foreign Ministry said Sunday.
“Recently, we have received a proposal by Iraqi officials for an upcoming round of the talks to be held in January,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters when he was asked about possible time of the talks.
Hosseini said the “time and level of the talks is under study.”
Since May, Iran and the U.S. have held three rounds of ambassador-level of negotiations over security in Iraq.
Earlier in November, Iran agreed to a request from the U.S. and Iraq to continue the talks.
Previous sessions ended inconclusively with Iran rejecting U.S. allegations that it supports Shiite insurgent groups in Iraq by providing bomb-making materials responsible for the deaths of American troops.
The new invitation came amid a decline in attacks involving such devices.
The first round of U.S.-Iran talks in Baghdad last May broke a 27-year diplomatic freeze. Both sides 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 was available on the outcome of those talks.
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.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry also condemned remarks made by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who over the weekend lashed out at Iran for seeking to cause chaos and demanded its neighbors push Tehran to renounce its nuclear program.
“Basically, this expression is an intervention in the domestic affairs of the regional countries,” ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters. But Hosseini said Gates’ comments on Saturday and other “activities by the U.S. have not succeeded in creating differences among the countries.”
In his speech during a global security conference in the neighboring Arab country of Bahrain, Gates appealed to Persian Gulf nations to support penalties designed to force Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment. Those nations, Gates said, also should demand that Iran “openly affirm that it does not intend to develop nuclear weapons in the future.”
Iranian officials had abruptly decided not to participate in the security conference. Hosseini said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki did not attend because he was busy with various agendas in Tehran.
The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, a claim denied by Iran, which says its nuclear program aims only to generate electricity.
Iran has already been faced two rounds U.N. Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce either fuel for a reactor or a nuclear warhead.
Gates’ appeal to Arab Gulf countries comes after a U.S. intelligence estimate released Monday concluded that Iran actually had stopped atomic weapons development in 2003. That was in stark contrast to a 2005 estimate that said Tehran was continuing its weapons development.