WASHINGTON (AFP) — Iraq President Jalal Talabani told US President George W. Bush on Wednesday that Iran and Syria, long targets of US blame over deadly unrest in Iraq, now pose "no problem."
"I'm glad to tell you Mr President that our relations with our neighbors is improved very well with Turkey, with Syria, with Iran with the Arab countries," Talabani said as he met with Bush at the White House.
"The relation is normal now and we have no problem with any of those countries. In contrary, many many new ambassadors are coming to our country from Arab countries," Talabani said.
Washington has for years accused Syria of at the very least turning a blind eye to foreign fighters crossing into Iraq to battle US-led forces, and has alleged Iranian support for elements that target coalition troops.
But a senior US official told reporters on Tuesday, after Bush announced a modest drawdown of US forces in Iraq over the coming months, that Iran may have changed tack on its strife-ravaged neighbor.
"We know right now that Iran is not playing the actively unhelpful role that it has periodically in the past," the official said on condition of anonymity, adding that Washington was watching to see whether it would last.
"It's a tactical decision at this point by Iran, not a strategic decision" but it has been a "pattern now of several months," the official said.
And the US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said recently that US and Iraqi leaders were taking "a wait-and-see attitude" regarding Tehran's role.
Talabani also told Bush that "there's no place, no inch of Iraqi land under the control" of terrorists, though some groups are still operating in Iraq.
The Iraqi leader also said he hoped that Iraqi lawmakers would break the legislative logjam that has held up efforts to craft a law governing regional elections -- a step Washington says will help reduce sectarian violence by bringing more groups into the political process.
"I hope that today it will be finalized. Because the head of groups of parliament are now gathering in parliament to finalize it," said Talabani, who also expressed hopes that Washington and Baghdad will soon reach an agreement governing long-term diplomatic, military and economic relations.
Bush said he and Talabani had discussed "the need to get a strategic framework agreement signed" and that the Iraqi leader, 74, was in good shape after what the Baghdad government said was successful heart surgery.
"The president's health is strong, and that's going to be very important for the people of Iraq," said the US president, who highlighted changes in Iraq since the March 2003 US-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
"Things have changed a lot since we've known each other, and attitudes are completely different now that people realize the security situation has changed," said Bush.
"It's still difficult, but there's no doubt that the surge has been effective, which has enabled us to take out troops," said Bush, referring to his January 2007 order to send roughly 30,000 more US forces to Iraq.
The US president, whose term ends in January, said Tuesday that he was setting in motion the withdrawal of roughly 8,000 US troops out of Iraq from now through February 2009.
"The Iraqis want there to be fewer US troops. The United States wants there to be fewer US troops. But both of us want to realize that vision based upon success," said Bush.
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