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Iraq asks Obama to hold new U.S.- Iran talks

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government has called for the administration of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to initiate sustained dialogue with Iran in hopes of greater Middle Eastern stability, a government spokesman said on Thursday.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh speaks during an interview with Reuters in Najaf, 160 km (100 miles) south of Baghdad September 13, 2008. Picture taken September 13, 2008. REUTERS/Ceerwan Aziz

Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh also called for dialogue to improve relations between Iran and Arab countries.

“The time has come for a new, serious, and calm policy with an open-minded vision,” Dabbagh said in a statement after he had given a speech in Washington.

The Shi’ite-led Iraqi government, which is friendly toward Shi’ite Iran and has been backed by Washington since the 2003 invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, has supported U.S.-Iran dialogue before.

It now appears to be pinning its hopes on Obama for greater talks between the long-time foes.

In a shift from outgoing President George W. Bush, Obama has said he favors direct engagement with Iran, even as he threatens to toughen sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program.

U.S. and Iranian officials have held several rounds of talks in Baghdad -- exclusively on Iraqi security and not Iran’s nuclear ambitions -- in one of the few instances of direct communication between the two countries.

Antagonism between the U.S. and Iran, which Washington accuses of stoking violence in Iraq, has at times strained ties between Tehran and Baghdad.

Iranian officials have accused Washington of plunging Iraq into bloody chaos and opposed a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that will allow U.S. troops to stay in Iraq until the end of 2011.

Iraq and Iran, which fought an eight-year war in the 1980s, both have a Shi’ite Muslim majority.

Many members of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led coalition sought refuge in Iran during Saddam’s rule, when minority Sunni Arabs dominated Iraq, and have close ties today.

Without specifying whether he was addressing Iran or the United States, Dabbagh called for respect for international law, alternatives to military solutions to conflict, and for regional answers to regional problems.

“Solutions (must not be) forced from outside,” he said.

Reporting by Khalid al-Ansary; writing by Missy Ryan; editing by Nita Bhalla