BAGHDAD, Iraq – Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday promised to help end the chaos he said was created by the United States in Iraq.
"The first step to resolve the instability in Iraq is the withdrawal of occupiers from this country and the transfer of security responsibilities to the popular Iraqi government," Khamenei said during a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani according to a state television report.
Khamenei said Iran considered it a "religious and humanitarian" duty to work for peace in Iraq, according to the report.
"If asked by the Iraqi government, Iran won't spare any effort to contribute to stability and security in Iraq," Khamenei was quoted as saying.
Khamenei accused the United States of hiring terrorists and former members of Saddam Hussein's regime to destabilize Iraq.
"Those (the Americans) who plotted against Iraq, and whose plans have not materialized, are intent on destabilizing the situation. Their agents on the ground are terrorists, the excommunicated and former Baathists," he said.
Talabani arrived in Tehran on Monday after an invitation by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for two days of talks over how to quell the raging sectarian violence in Iraq. Iran, a Shiite Muslim country, is known to have considerable influence among Iraq's Shiite majority — elements of which have been blamed for the bulk of the recent attacks.
In a meeting with Ahmadinejad after his arrival, Talabani said his government was in dire need of Iran's help to quell the escalating violence in Iraq.
According to state television, Ahmadinejad pledged to provide help.
"Definitely, the Iranian government and nation will stand next to its brother Iraq and will do every help it can to strengthen security in Iraq," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.
Iran wanted to organize a summit bringing together Ahmadinejad, Talabani and Syrian President Bashar Assad, but Damascus did not publicly respond to Tehran's invitation.
The United States has accused Iran of supplying money, weapons components and training to Shiite militias in neighboring Iraq.
Iran has denied the charge, saying it has only political and religious links with Iraqi Shiites.
In recent weeks, the Bush administration has come under increasing domestic and international pressure to engage with Iran and Syria if it hopes to curtail the violence in Iraq.
Talabani, who speaks fluent Farsi, is on his fourth visit to Iran since taking office as president. He is a member of Iraq's Kurdish minority, but had close ties with Iranian officials before Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Talabani's meeting with Khamenei came a day before U.S. President George W. Bush was due to discuss the Iraqi conflict with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan.
The increased pace of diplomacy comes as a bipartisan U.S. panel headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Rep. Lee Hamilton is expected to put forth recommendations soon to the White House on alterations to Iraq policy. Seeking help from Iran and Syria was believed to be among the Iraq Study Group's proposal following American elections and calls for a speedy U.S. withdrawal.
Looking ahead to the Bush-Maliki summit in Amman, Jordan, the Iraqi side viewed the talks as the most important between leaders of the two countries since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, according to the two top officials with intimate knowledge of planning for the Wednesday-Thursday meeting.
Iraqi officials believe the summit will deal with giving Iraqi forces more control over security. The Iraqis expect Bush to agree to such an arrangement, and they say al-Maliki will then ask for the Americans to start discussing a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, according to one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the information.
But Bush's national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said it was unlikely Bush would address with the Iraqi leader the issue of any U.S. troop withdrawals. "We're not at the point where the president is going to be in a position to lay out a comprehensive plan," Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One.
The second Iraqi official, who spoke anonymously for the same reason, said American officials had indicated in preparatory talks in Baghdad that Bush was open to increasing the pace of the security hand-over.
"The responsibilities of U.S. troops will decrease when security is transferred to Iraqis, and that will mean the Americans have more soldiers here than they need," the second official said.
Also on the Iraqi agenda, the officials said, would be al-Maliki's insistence that the United States pressure its Sunni Arab allies in the region to stop what Baghdad claims is support for the Iraqi insurgency.
Lastly, al-Maliki wants to get an outline of the U.S. view of the strategic relationship that would exist as the Americans draw down their presence in the country, the Iraqi officials said.
Hadley said the conflict in Iraq had entered "a new phase" requiring changes.
"Obviously everyone would agree things are not proceeding well enough or fast enough," he said. "We're clearly in a new phase characterized by an increase in sectarian violence that requires us to adapt to that new phase."
Bush and al-Maliki "need to be talking about how to do that and what steps Iraq needs to take and how we can support" Iraq's leaders, Hadley said, rejecting suggestions that Iraq had already spiraled into a civil war.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.