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Iran urged to talk to U.S.

TEHRAN, Iran --An Iranian parliamentary committee has called for direct talks with the U.S. on setting up a new Afghan government, a parliamentary official has said. Iran has had no diplomatic relations with the U.S. for the past 22 years.

The parliament held a closed-door session on Sunday in which it was decided that Iran needs to speak to the U.S. and Europe, according to Iranian newspapers. The parliament is dominated by the reformist supporters of moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

Golamheidar Ebrahimbai-Salami said parliament's special committee on the Afghan crisis had concluded that "it is in our national interests to engage in talks with the main parties in the conflict, especially America.""Iran's role must not be ignored in ending the current crisis. We have to make sure that the future government in Afghanistan will not adversely affect our interests," he was quoted by Iranian news agency IRNA as saying.

Soon after the September 11 terror attacks in New York and Washington, Iran expressed sympathy with the U.S., but has since condemned the airstrikes in Afghanistan saying they would lead to many civilian casualties. Iran and the U.S. have been communicating indirectly or through the "six-plus-two" group comprising Afghanistan's six neighbours, including Iran, as well as the U.S. and Russia. It is trying to find a political solution to the Afghan crisis.

Ebrahimbai-Salami said the committee's findings had been forwarded to Khatami and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on major policy issues, including U.S. ties. "We are not talking about renewing diplomatic ties with America; such negotiations would only be aimed at ensuring our long-term interests," he said.

Khatami is coming under pressure from both sides at home to take a more aggressive stance, with reformers seeking closer co-operation with the U.S. and its allies and hardliners demanding a tougher line against them, Reuters news agency reported.

The U.S. has hesitated to seek Iranian co-operation in its war on terrorism, citing concerns about Iran's support for militant groups in the Middle East.

Reuters contributed to this report.

-- Swissrose (, October 29, 2001

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