Iraq to Send Envoys to Neighbors, But Not Syria

Iraqi envoys will visit Iran and four other neighboring countries "in the next few days" to discuss convening a regional conference on calming the violence here but will not include Syria on the list, an aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday.

A bipartisan U.S. commission recommended Wednesday that President George W. Bush should engage Syria and Iran in negotiations on Iraq's future because of influence those two countries wield among armed groups in Iraq.

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Iran will be among the countries to be visited by the envoys, the aide said.

But he added that envoys would not visit Syria until the government there responded to proposals made during a visit here last month by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem.

The aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, did not elaborate on the proposals.

However, Syria has repeatedly been accused by U.S. and Iraqi officials of allowing extremists to use its territory to cross into Iraq and join the insurgency and of sheltering senior Saddam Hussein loyalists.

The other countries to be visited are Kuwait, Turkey, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

On Tuesday, al-Maliki said his envoys will talk with Iraq's neighbors about the possibility of a regional conference despite opposition to the plan by some key political allies.

Previously, Iraqi leaders had resisted suggestions they include outsiders in efforts to settle their bitter internal divisions.

Al-Maliki, a Shiite, told reporters that his envoys would talk with other governments in the region, most of them Sunni-dominated, about how they might help establish security and stability in Iraq.

"After the political climate is cleared, we will call for the convening of a regional conference in which these countries that are keen on the stability and security of Iraq will participate," al-Maliki said.

In recent days, President Jalal Talabani and a leading Shiite politician, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, have rejected U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's proposal for a regional peace conference. Annan said such a gathering could be useful if the parties met outside Iraq.

Al-Maliki, though, said any conference should take place in Iraq. Any proposals to emerge, he added, should conform to "what the national unity government wants."

The Bush administration welcomed the announcement.

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