Iran Ends Its Talks With U.S. on Iraq

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran ended talks with the United States over how to restore order in Iraq after concluding the negotiations were "going nowhere," Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday in a rare acknowledgment of official talks between Tehran and Washington.

Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said no progress was made during the talks and that Washington's reliance on military force was fueling violence in Iraq.

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

He gave no details of the talks, such as who was involved or where they took place.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher declined to say whether the United States asked Iran to help calm the situation in Iraq.

But Kharrazi said Iran and the United States were still in contact through the Swiss Embassy. In the absence of formal diplomatic relations between the two countries, Switzerland looks after American interests in Iran.

"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."

The official Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday that a top Foreign Ministry official, Hossein Sadeghi, was sent to Iraq to consult with members of the U.S.-appointed Governing Council and Iraqi clerics.

Sadeghi's visit is believed to be in response to Washington's request that Tehran help end the violence in Iraq.

But Boucher said Washington did not any invite Iranian officials to Baghdad.

The Swiss Embassy refused to comment on the contacts between Tehran and Washington.

Washington broke ties with Iran after Iranians seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in November 1979. The militants held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

In 2002, President Bush listed Iran as part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea.

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 he gave no indication Tehran 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."

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."

The U.S. military has been fighting on two fronts in Iraq this month - against followers of a vehemently anti-U.S. Shiite cleric, Muqtada al-Sadr, and against Sunni insurgents in the city of Fallujah.

Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the United States is doomed to fail in Iraq.

"Americans will be forced to leave Iraq with humiliation," he said on state-run radio Wednesday. "Americans arrived in Iraq in the name of democracy but have actually started killing people, making their record darker than ever before."

Khamenei also said Iraq's neighbors had no role in fostering Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said that an Iranian delegation was headed to Baghdad to help secure the release of four Italian hostages held in Iraq.

Frattini didn't give details of the Iranian mission, but presumably Italy, one of Iran's major trading partners, wants to make the most any leverage Shiite Iran might have in Iraq.

The four were abducted Monday, Frattini said, speaking in Rome. The unidentified abductors have reportedly demanded Italy pull its 3,000 soldiers and paramilitary police from Iraq, a move ruled out by Italian officials.