US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday she was "quite certain" that direct talks would take place with Iran on the turmoil in Iraq, but did not say exactly when.

"In this narrow set of issues about security in places where we find ourselves in a sense on their border, it is important that we do not have any miscommunication or misinformation," said Rice.

In Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday said he supported talks with Washington about Iraq but was suspicious of US motives.

   

"We essentially do not trust the Americans but we will conditionally negotiate with them about Iraq while taking into account the interests of Iraqis and the world of Islam," Ahmadinejad said, according to the official IRNA news agency.

   

He did not go into details, but Iranian officials have said the talks would cover only Iraq, not Iran's nuclear programme or other areas of dispute with Washington.

   

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word in all matters of state, has already approved the US-Iranian talks. 

Accusation 

Khalilzad(L) was authorised to 
speak to the Iranians about Iraq 

Some of the violence in the country is being attributed to neighbouring Iran, and in an interview with the Washington Post, US ambassador to Iran, Zalmay Khalilzad accused the Islamic republic of interference in Iraq.

"Our judgment is that training and supplying, direct or indirect, takes place, and that there is also provision of financial resources to people, to militias," Khalilzad told the Washington Post, adding that Iranian agents were present in the country.

He said he was especially concerned over Iran's links to the al-Mahdi Army, an armed group loyal to Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr whom he blamed for the latest rise in sectarian killings in Iraq.

Though Khalilzad has been authorised to speak with the Iranians on the situation in Iraq since last year, the issue returned to prominence with last week's calls by an Iraqi Shia politician to Iran to talk with the United States.

The call prompted anger among other Iraqi politicians who questioned the validity of talks about Iraq that do not involve Iraqis.

Concern in Washington and Baghdad is high over the unabated violence in Iraq, especially in Baghdad and its environs, though officials in both capitals are quick to deny that a civil war is underway.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld added his voice to other US officials expressing their impatience with the length of time taken by Iraqi politicians to decide on a new government.

"So to the extent that is not happening, obviously, the level of violence continues and people are being killed, and that is unfortunate. And they need to get about the task," Rumsfeld said.

Talks restart 

Talabani (L) announced  he was
'optimistic' 

In response to US pressure, Iraqi politicians restarted talks on Friday, a day earlier than planned, after their suspension for a week due to local holidays.

After the restart of talks, Talabani said he was "optimistic" about the formation of a new government, and said talks had progressed on a wide range of issues, including on the mechanisms of the new government.

His optimism was somewhat undercut by Shia politician Jawad al-Maliki who at the same press conference revealed that while talks had occurred over general issues, no discussions on the actual mechanisms had taken place.