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Iran Halts Its Work With U.S. on Iraq

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By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran said Wednesday an attempt to work with the United States on Iraq (news - web sites) was "going nowhere," and that Washington could not resolve the surge in violence without talks with Iraq's neighbors.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said there had been contacts over Iraq but that progress had stalled. The specifics were not known but it was a rare acknowledgment of discussion between the two countries, which have no diplomatic ties.

"Previously, we had dialogue" about Iraq, Kharrazi told reporters in a "Currently it has stopped because we felt we were going nowhere. The Americans give promises, but don't keep their promises. Currently, they (the Americans) are taking a wrong path."

Separately, he said the United States had sent letters to Iran through the Swiss Embassy, which looks after U.S. interests in Iran, demanding Tehran help improve the situation in Iraq. He did not provide many details but indicated that channel had not been severed.

"There has been a lot of correspondence with the U.S. about Iraq" through the Swiss Embassy, he said. "Naturally, there are such requests from the U.S. that we help improve the situation in Iraq, and we are making efforts in this regard," he said.

Guillaume Scheurer, a Swiss Embassy official, refused to comment.

In the absence of formal diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington, Switzerland looks after American interests in Iran.

Washington broke ties with Iran following the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 after the fall of the Western-backed monarchy. Militants held 52 people hostage for 444 days.

In 2002, President Bush (news - web sites) listed Iran as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea (news - web sites).

Washington and Tehran are at odds over Iran's nuclear program. The Bush administration suspects Iran is pursuing programs to develop nuclear arms. Iran insists it only wants nuclear reactors to meet energy demands.

Kharrazi said Iran was willing to help improve the security situation in Iraq, but gave no indication it was trying to resume talks.

Iran "is making its utmost efforts to help resolve the situation in Iraq as soon as possible so that the power is given back to the Iraqi people," he said. "The solution is for occupiers to leave Iraq."

The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday that a top Iranian Foreign Ministry official, Hossein Sadeghi, was being dispatched to Iraq for consultations with members of Iraq's U.S.-appointed Governing Council and with Iraqi clerics.

Kharrazi advised the United States to consult with Iraqi clerics and Iraq's neighbors. Relying on force, he said, "is a big mistake with severe consequences. They have to employ wisdom. ... They (Americans) don't know the psychology of the Iraqi people. They should avoid making more mistakes."

The U.S. military has been fighting on several fronts across Iraq this month — against followers of a vehemently anti-U.S. Shiite Muslim cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, in the south; against Sunni Muslim insurgents in the central city of Fallujah; as well as in Baghdad and elsewhere.

In his remarks Wednesday, Iran's foreign minister rejected U.S. accusations of Shiite Iran's involvement in the violence.

Kharrazi made no comment on the tense situation in southern Iraq, where al-Sadr was holed up in his office in Najaf, home to major Shiite shrines.

U.S. commanders have vowed to kill or capture al-Sadr, though officials suggested they would give negotiations a chance. A 2,500-strong U.S. force, backed by tanks and artillery, was massed Wednesday on the outskirts of Najaf, raising fears of a U.S. assault.

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