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Last Updated: Saturday, 7 April 2007, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Iraq powers plan Egypt conference
Aftermath of a bombing in Iraq
Iraq faces security problems, violence and sectarian strife
Iraq's government has announced that Egypt is to host an international conference on the situation in Iraq.

The conference - at foreign ministers' level - will be held in May and involve Iraq's neighbours and other regional and international powers.

It could see the US secretary of state meet her Iranian or Syrian counterpart in direct talks for the first time.

Washington does not have diplomatic ties with Tehran or Damascus, but envoys did meet at a recent conference.

That conference, in Baghdad, began international discussions about Iraq's security.

Another meeting at the United Nations recently formed the International Compact with Iraq, to offer international support for the reconstruction of the country.

Rising tension

The conference is expected to take place on 3-4 May, possibly in the Red Sea resort of Sharm al-Sheikh.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said he expected there could be opportunities for bilateral talks - to ease growing tensions among states with interests in the Middle East.

"There is a feeling of how dangerous the situation is and a feeling of rising regional tension that negatively affects the situation in Iraq," he told a Baghdad news conference.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
Rising regional tension negatively affects the situation in Iraq
Hoshyar Zebari
Iraqi Foreign Minister

"As a forum, as a platform, there may be opportunities for breaking the deadlock which would be helpful to my country because we need a conducive, supportive regional environment for us to succeed."

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Baghdad, says that Iraqis hope that the meeting will lead to substantive direct discussions between the Americans and Iran, heading off the possibility of some kind of hostile US action over Tehran's nuclear programme.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has previously refused to rule out any direct contacts with her Syrian or Iranian opposite numbers.

Among those attending the Baghdad meeting will be delegates from Iraq's neighbours as well as Bahrain, Egypt, and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

Some officials from the G8 group of leading industrialised nations would also attend, Mr Zebari said.

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