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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 November 2006, 00:16 GMT
US 'broadly ready' for Iran talks
Gen Abizaid (left) and David Satterfield
Gen Abizaid (left) and Mr Satterfield spoke to the committee
The US government has confirmed its willingness, in principle, to discuss the conflict in Iraq with its neighbour, Iran.

David Satterfield, a state department adviser, told a Senate committee the timing of such talks was under review.

President George W Bush had earlier appeared to rule out talks with Iran.

A senior US army commander in Iraq has meanwhile said he does not believe raising - or reducing - US troop levels will help ease the conflict in Iraq.

Gen John Abizaid, the top US commander for the Middle East, said he was still optimistic Iraq could be stabilised.

He said he believed the US could "accelerate" the training of Iraqi forces to within the next year.

"I'm not able to give you precisely what I think, but I think it's before 12 months," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The committee was meeting for the first time since the Democratic Party seized control of both houses of Congress by defeating the Republicans in mid-term polls.

The Republican defeat was broadly blamed on US voters dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.

'Violence and extremism'

Mr Satterfield told the Senate committee the US was "prepared, in principle, for a direct dialogue with Iran".

David Satterfield
Syria cast its lot - as it remains today - with Iran, with Hezbollah, with forces of violence and extremism
David Satterfield

"The timing of that dialogue is one that we are considering," he said.

President Bush said this week that Iran must halt its nuclear activities before it could join the US at the negotiating table.

But the White House had also indicated earlier that it was ready to consider a fresh approach to the Iraq conflict, which included possible talks with Iran and Syria.

The recommendation for talks is believed to have come from the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel charged by Congress to review US policy in Iraq.

Mr Satterfield told the committee talks with Syria were unlikely until Damascus changed its policy.

He accused Syria of having "cast its lot - as it remains today - with Iran, with Hezbollah, with forces of violence and extremism".

'Discreet review'

Gen Abizaid told the committee he did not believe boosting the US troop presence in Iraq would be useful.

US troops in Iraq
US troops have been trying to hand over to Iraqi security forces

"I believe more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, taking more responsibility for their future," he said.

But he also ruled out withdrawing troops - a strategy favoured by many Democrats.

"Under current circumstances, I would not recommend troop withdrawals," he said.

Meanwhile, President Bush's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, has confirmed that he is carrying out a review of US policy in Iraq for the White House.

The review began "fairly discreetly" several weeks ago, Mr Hadley said.

According to the BBC's Nick Childs in Washington, the review brings together internal studies by the state and defence departments.

He says the review is distinct from the Iraq Study Group and may be an administration effort to have an alternative report to turn to if the Iraq Study Group's recommendations are not to its liking.


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