Rice Says Open to Iran Talks
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has not ruled out a meeting with her Iranian counterpart on the sidelines of a multinational conference on Iraq security next week.
At the regional meeting beginning Thursday in Egypt, Iraq is seeking support for its neighbors for helping in reining in violence.
Iran"s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is expected to lead his country"s delegation after Tehran announced Sunday that it would attend the conference.
Rice said in television interviews that she would not rule out an "encounter" with Mottaki but stressed that any discussions would center only on stabilizing Iraq and not broader US-Iranian ties.
The US, which has not had diplomatic relations with Tehran since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, has recently shown more flexibility.
Originally, President Bush refused all contact with Tehran, but later agreed to join multilateral talks over Iran"s nuclear energy program.
Bush now is suggesting bilateral talks on Iraq may be possible.
Bush last week said Rice might meet with Mottaki when ministers from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the Group of Eight and Iraq"s neighbors meet at Sharm el-Sheikh.
But he asserted that there would be no one-to-one talks outside such a forum.
Asked in an interview with PBS television whether Rice might have "bilateral conversations" in Egypt with Mottaki, Bush replied: "They could."
Rice confirmed the announcement saying, "I will not rule out that we may encounter each other".
She made clear, however, that Iraq would be the only issue on the agenda of any discussion between the two rivals.
"This is not a meeting about the United States and Iran, this is a meeting about Iraq and about what Iraq"s neighbors and interested parties can do to help stabilize the situation in Iraq," she told ABC news.
Rice suggested that in any encounter, she would repeat US calls on Iran to stop allegedly aiding insurgents in Iraq.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki"s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said Sunday the US has not provided Iraq with any "solid evidence"" that Iran is arming fighters in Iraq.
"I"m saying this categorically: There is no solid evidence that Iran is supporting or helping Al-Qaeda in any way,"" he said.
Al-Rubaie made the remarks in Tampa, Florida, where he is attending a three-day meeting with other international defense leaders at US Central Command headquarters.
Iran has demanded the release of five Iranian deplomats kidnapped by by US forces in Iraq.
On Sunday, Rice denied speculation that the US had promised to release the five to lure a reluctant Iran to the meeting.
"There was no guarantee. We"ve talked to the Iraqi government and informed them that the detainees will be dealt with in the normal course," she told CNN.
"There"s a normal process for dealing with detainees and we"ll deal with these detainees in that normal process," she said.
US-Iranian relations for months have been strained by Tehran"s nuclear program, despite the Islamic Republic"s insistence that it is only for civilian nuclear power.
Rice said that any meeting in Egypt would not tackle the issue of nuclear power.
"The proper channel for Iran"s nuclear program is through Javier Solana, the EU high representative, who is representing all of the six countries that have made Iran a very generous offer concerning the development of nuclear power," she told CNN.