March 2/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 7,7-12. Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.

Free Opinions
Tomb of Jesus theory challenged-By W. Winston Skinnner-The Times-Herald March 2/07
Hezbollah's Continuing Work Post-ceasefire victories. By Lokman Slim & Inga Schei March 2/07
The Army and Hezbollah's Preparations. By Elias Harfouch March 2/07
Imminent strife on the ground or on the pages of The New Yorker? Daily Star March 2/07

Latest News Reports From miscellaneous sources For March 2/07
White House: US won't talk to Syria, Iran directly. CNN
Rice Assures Jumblat of No Compromises on Lebanon-Naharnet
UN in talks with Lebanon for peace-United Press International

State Department official applies to visit Syria-Boston Globe
Iranian president to visit Saudi on Saturday-Washington Post
Can Syria be trusted?Israel split over Assad's intentions-Washington Jewish Week
US: There will be no bilateral talks with Iran or Syria-Raw Story

Latest News Reports From the Daily Star For March 1/07
Jumblatt trumpets US support for 'coexistence, free economy'
Lebanese security officer charged with helping foreign intelligence
UN envoy relays Israeli concerns to Fneish
Magistrate says Geagea will face questioning
Wife of captured Israeli soldier says appeals have fallen on deaf ears
Legitimate dealers see red over diesel scam
Italian official recommends 'direct' internal dialogue
Rizk says Lebanon's woes cannot be blamed on sectarian makeup alone
Obeid rips Franjieh charge of links to Gemayel killing
'Ireland hopes peace will prevail in South Lebanon'
EDL blames outages in South on choppy seas, maintenance work
UN opens probe into alleged assault on student at Sidon school
Political violence forces tough choice on universities
A driver's license in incapable hands 'is a license to kill'
The US tightens its financial chokehold on Iran By David Ignatius
Joseph Samaha: farewell to a paradox By Michael Young

Rice Assures Jumblat of No Compromises on Lebanon
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has assured Druze leader Walid Jumblat that there won't be any compromises on Lebanon, An Nahar daily reported Thursday. "The message was clear from U.S. officials - from President Bush to Dr. Rice-: No compromise on Lebanon," An Nahar quoted Jumblat as saying.
He said that senior U.S. officials have also assured him that "we will not touch on Lebanon at the Baghdad meeting." "Deserting Lebanon or bargaining over it in Baghdad is out of the question," Jumblat quoted the U.S. officials as telling him. The anti-Damascus legislator was referring to a security conference that will be held in the Iraqi capital next month and that could pave the way for high-level talks between the U.S. and its arch-foes Iran and Syria. Jumblat, along with Telecommunications Minister Marwan Hamadeh and former legislator Ghattas Khoury, have held series of talks with top Bush administration officials on Wednesday. Hamadeh also quoted Rice as telling the Lebanese delegation that the U.S. will make "no compromises with anyone over Lebanon, not at the Baghdad meeting nor at any other occasion."Sources that took part in the meetings told An Nahar that the discussions revolved around "the international tribunal, strengthening Lebanon politically, helping the Lebanese army and finding ways to confront external interferences." They met on Monday with Bush who reiterated his government's support for the creation of a Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to prosecute suspects in ex-Premier Rafik Hariri's murder and related crimes.
Jumblat told reporters after Wednesday's talks at the State Department that the aim of his visit was to receive support for Lebanon's independence.
"The Americans and westerners have given a lot to Lebanon, in particular the successful Paris III aid conference," he said. He also urged them to continue backing Lebanon "to resist states within states: the state of Hizbullah," he said. Beirut, 01 Mar 07, 08:07

Hariri Targets Syria
Parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri accused Syria Thursday of blocking efforts to end Lebanon's crippling political crisis.
On a visit to Brussels, Hariri also urged the European Union to help pressure Syria to stop undermining attempts to set up a Special International Tribunal for Lebanon to try suspects in his father's assassination. "There have been efforts by Saudi Arabia and Iran to get the crisis in Lebanon resolved," he told reporters at the European Parliament. "Saudi Arabia knows the politics of Lebanon. Iran has a role because of its involvement with Hizbullah. So hopefully there is a kind of discussion that is ongoing now in finding an end to this crisis," he said. But Hariri added: "I believe that the main problem today is the Syrian regime who is trying to stop this agreement." Lebanon has been in turmoil since Rafik Hariri's Feb. 2005 murder, which has been widely blamed on Syria. After the killing, Damascus was forced to end 29-year military domination of Lebanon. But since then Lebanon has been shaken by further attacks, often blamed on Syria, a war between Israel and Hizbullah that left 1,200 dead, mostly civilians, and a Hizbullah-led opposition campaign to oust the government of Premier Fouad Saniora. "What we are asking the EU, and others, is to tell those countries to stop interfering in the Middle East conflicts. Lebanon is way too small for them to be interested in it," Hariri said.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 01 Mar 07, 14:14

Solana for Chapter 7 if Obstacles Linger
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana has warned that the United Nations might resort to Chapter 7 of the world body's charter if the formation of an international tribunal into Hariri's probe was not approved by the Lebanese parliament. Solana, at a joint press conference with parliament's majority leader Saad Hariri in Brussels on Wednesday, said: "All members of the Security Council are ready to exert efforts to establish the international tribunal by any means."
But he warned that as long as the formation of the tribunal still faced "obstacles," then it would be necessary to resort to Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter.
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora's cabinet has reaffirmed its approval of a U.N. plan for the tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and related crimes. The cabinet's ratification was a challenge to the Hizbullah-led Opposition seeking to oust Saniora. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a close Hizbullah ally, has been resisting convening a session to endorse the tribunal draft. Chapter 7 spares the government the need to approve the international tribunal in parliament. Solana, however, said the U.N. was willing to assist Lebanon by "talking to Syria and exerting more pressure on it to make it behave constructively." Many in Lebanon accuse Syria of involvement in Hariri's murder, a charge vehemently denied by Damascus. But Saad Hariri expressed hope that the court would be formed without having to resort to Chapter 7. Beirut, 01 Mar 07, 12:52

Latest 'Wanted' in Gemayel Murder

Police have released a modified sketch of a suspect in the 2006 assassination of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.
A statement issued by the Internal Security Forces on Wednesday urged "anyone with any information on the whereabouts of the suspect to call the hotline 1788."
The statement also assured "anonymity" of the person who would provide the information. The identikit was published by Lebanese newspapers on Thursday. Gemayel was shot dead by gunmen at point-blank range in the Beirut suburb of New Jdeideh on November 21, 2006. On Tuesday, ISF released a sketch of another suspect in Defense Minister Elias Murr's 2005 assassination attempt. Murr survived an assassination bombing ambush with minor and medium burns in Beirut's suburban district of Naccache on July 12, 2005. Beirut, 01 Mar 07, 11:33

Lebanese Kidnapped in Nigeria
Gunmen kidnapped a Lebanese worker Wednesday in Nigeria's restive southern oil region, the latest in a string of attacks across the increasingly lawless area, police said. The man, whose name was not released, was working on a project for Alren Construction Co. Nigeria Ltd. when he was seized by four gunmen, Police Commissioner Felix Ogbaudu said by telephone. "We don't know which group the kidnappers belong to," he said. The incident took place in Mbiama, some 30 kilometers outside Port Harcourt, the state capital. More than 60 foreigners have been kidnapped this year in the oil-rich delta region — nearly equaling the 2006 total. Hostages are generally released unharmed after a ransom is paid. Militants behind a year of attacks say they're trying to force the federal government to give the Niger Delta more control over oil revenues and release two leaders imprisoned on corruption or treason charges. However, copycat criminals seeking only ransom appear to be behind much of the recent upsurge in violence. Production in Africa's largest oil exporter has been cut by nearly a quarter over the past year as militants target foreign workers and oil infrastructure.(AP-AFP) Beirut, 01 Mar 07, 07:43

Tomb of Jesus theory challenged
Published 2/28/07 in The Times-Herald
Dr. Jim Fleming says the current theory that a tomb in Jerusalem is that of Jesus and his family is highly unlikely.
Fleming, founder of Explorations in Antiquity in LaGrange, said there is little evidence to indicate the tomb — being touted by filmmaker James Cameron as the tomb of Jesus and his family — is Jesus' tomb and much evidence that it is not.
Filmmakers and researchers on Monday unveiled two ancient stone boxes they said may have once contained the remains of Jesus and Mary Magdalene, according to The Associated Press. "The Lost Tomb of Jesus," produced by Cameron and scheduled to air Sunday at 9 p.m. on the Discovery Channel, argues that 10 small caskets, called ossuaries, discovered in 1980 in a Jerusalem suburb may have held the bones of Jesus and his family.
In the first century, bodies were placed in a tomb. After they had decomposed, bones were placed in ossuaries.
One of the caskets bears the title, "Judah, son of Jesus," hinting that Jesus may have had a son, according to the film. The claim that Jesus even had an ossuary contradicts the Christian belief that he was resurrected and ascended to heaven.
"It's hard to imagine a more clear illustration of misuse of scientific evidence," Fleming said Tuesday morning at Explorations in Antiquity.
Fleming is a professing Christian who has spent his adult life looking at the Bible — and the gospels in particular — in the light of science and history. He has served on the editorial board of Biblical Archaeology Review since 1980.
For some 25 years, he headed the World of the Bible Archaeological Museum and Pilgrim Center at Ein Karem, Jerusalem. The threat of terrorism turned the flood of visitors to the Jerusalem site to a trickle, and it closed in 2006.
Explorations in Antiquity follows a similar theme. The LaGrange facility features replicas of actual tombs from the Old and New Testament eras, a village well, a Bedouin tent, a watchtower and the town gate. The New Testament tomb is much like the one that is the subject of Cameron's film.
Cameron's film builds on the retelling of Jesus' story as popularized in Dan Brown's novel, "The DaVinci Code," and the movie it inspired. Brown's story suggested Jesus married Mary Magdalene and fathered a child. Though Brown claimed the story was grounded in truth, most scholars found the Jesus-Mary Magdalene story without merit.
There even have been stories that the image of John, the Apostle, from DaVinci's "The Last Supper" is Judas, the son of Jesus. During the media blitz surrounding Brown's novel, it was suggested the figure was a female, Mary Magdalene.
Fleming said DaVinci's own sketches and notes make it clear he intended the figure to be John. "There's an agenda to prove something," Fleming stated.
Fleming said a true archaeologist goes to a site expecting nothing specific. He said the Jesus' tomb story is an example of looking at evidence and finding a preconceived "fact."
When the tomb was found in 1980, it was duly noted by Israeli authorities. There are ossuaries in the tomb marked Miriam/Mary, Joseph and Matthew, as well as the Judas ossuary. Another has an inscription that some have interpreted as "Jesus," though not all experts who have seen it agree.
"This kind of tomb was used for about 100 years," Fleming said, and dates from 30 BC-70 AD. During that time period, there would have been about 150,000 women in the Jerusalem area. An examination of names from known ossuaries from the period would indicate about 60,000 of those women would have been named Miriam, the Hebrew name translated as Mary in the Greek New Testament.
The other names found in the tomb were also extremely common, Fleming said. There would have been about 21,000 Josephs, 15,000 Judases, 13,000 Jesuses and 7,500 Matthews during that time period.
While there is "a very slight chance this could be the family of Jesus," Fleming said many facts point in the other direction. He noted:
* There is considerable information in the New Testament and church tradition about Jesus' family. There is no mention of a family member named Matthew, but there are no ossuaries for known family members such as James and Salome.
* The New Testament relates that Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent "elder" who was a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, allowed Jesus' body to be placed in his newly hewn family tomb. There are no ossuaries in the 1980 site that would appear to be those of Joseph or members of his family.
* There was "a continuity of followers of Jesus" in Jerusalem from the end of his earthly ministry until the first Christian church was built there around 300 AD, Fleming said. He said it is highly unlikely that the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is now located is not the site of Jesus' tomb. Fleming also noted that excavations show there is a first century tomb beneath the church.
* It was customary in first century Palestine to identify people from the local area by their lineage and people from other areas by their town of origin. The fact that the ossuaries for Jesus and Mary have no geographical identifier indicates they are not likely to be those of the biblical figures, but rather people from Judea. They would have likely been identified as "Jesus of Nazareth" and "Mary of Magdala" had they been buried in Jerusalem.
* Many scholars have been aware of the 1980 tombs, but until the success of "DaVinci" no one seriously suggested the tomb might be that of Jesus of Nazareth. Amos Kloner, the Jewish archaeologist who found the site, did not reach that conclusion. Comment on the tombs is not new. Fleming noted there was a BBC documentary on them in the 1990s.
Fleming worked to make Arabs, Jews and Christians welcome at the museum area in Jerusalem. He still works with the Israeli government training Jewish and Arab tour guides to lead tours of sites with Christian significance. "I just came back from Israel last week," he said.
In addition to the television special by Cameron, who is probably best known as producer of "Titanic," a book, "The Jesus Family Tomb," by Canadian writer Simcha Jacobovici and Dr. Charles Pellegrino was recently published.
Cameron and Jacobovici found scholars to support their theories. AP reported a panel of scholars joined them at the New York Public Library for an announcement of the project Monday.
James Tabor, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said that while literal interpreters of the Bible say Jesus' physical body rose from the dead, "one might affirm resurrection in a more spiritual way in which the husk of the body is left behind."

The Army and Hezbollah's Preparations
Elias Harfouch Al-Hayat - 01/03/07//
There have been an increasing number of reports in the western press recently on Hezbollah's activities in southern Lebanon, specifically in the area north of the Litany River. One of these reports, published by the UK-based 'The Guardian', even cast doubt on the mission of the Lebanese army in the area, where 16,000 soldiers have been deployed.
The report implied that the army is patrolling areas 'off limits' to the international forces. One of Hezbollah's officials, who the paper called 'Ali', was quoted as saying that such areas were sensitive military zones, in which operations are being carried out under agreement between the Lebanese army and Hezbollah.
And while a UNIFIL official admitted that these forces conduct nearly 200 daily reconnaissance patrols in its zone of operations, in coordination with the Lebanese Army, where it was able to destroy rocket launch pads, fortifications, and underground shelters; he confirmed at the same time a marked surge in Hezbollah fighter's activities, especially in the area not covered by the mandate of the international forces These activities include training operations and construction works of new underground facilities.
In a similar report, the UK-based 'The Times' published a report of its correspondent Nicholas Blandford, who has been covering the border area for a long time and knows it well. Blandford quoted Milos Strugar, one of the UNIFIL officers as saying that there are continuous attempts of arms smuggling to the area, and that Hezbollah fighters are constructing a new array of fortifications and expanding facilities that existed before last summer's war.
The UNIFIL officer further said that upon trying to inspect one of these sites, he was challenged by two of Hezbollah's fighters armed with machine guns and equipped with wireless communications equipment. They asked him politely for identification before asking him to leave.
He added that in another spot he saw a sign up on the entrance of one of the fortifications that said: 'Warning. Restricted Access', signed 'Hezbollah'.
At the same time, Hezbollah does not make a secret of its preparations in the South. In an interview with the Associated Press, Hezbollah Deputy Undersecretary Sheikh Naim Kassem said that his fighters were laying down emergency plans in the event of a new Israeli offensive on Lebanon, as part of a potential US-Israeli attack on Iran.
Kassem also confirmed that Hezbollah is taking all the necessary measures to be ready and prepared, and is constantly changing its plans to prevent Israel from uncovering the truth about its true military capabilities, drawing on lessons learned from the experience of the last war.
Hezbollah Secretary General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah corroborated in his last public statement that Hezbollah was ready to back the Lebanese army in the last border clashes with the Israeli troops if it was asked to, which means that Hezbollah was present in advanced military posts in that area.
All this poses a question on the real role of the Lebanese army in the southern area and on the extent of commitment in observing the articles of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which Hezbollah has been saying was "imposed" on it under political circumstances similar to those that led to last summer's war.
The truth is that the Lebanese army is the one in charge in the South for enforcing the sovereignty of the State and eliminating any arms except for the legitimate ones.
The army's mission, however, is marred with sensitivities in this situation, as it is unable to enter into a confrontation and, at the same time, cannot leave the arena to Hezbollah. This role is as sensitive as the role being played in the streets of Beirut.
In an extended interview to Annahar newspaper, Army Chief Gen. Michel Suleiman complained about shortages of equipment and the absence of a defense policy. Speaking of the resistance's arms, he reiterated that 'The issue of the resistance is to be settled among the people of Lebanon'. Since the issue of the resistance's arms is controversial, the chief of the army, who reiterated in his statements his respect to the State's institutions, should have left the decisions on this issue to the political leadership.
Much has been circulated on the army's role in the recent clashes in Beirut, and over its 'leniency' toward the riots that took place. Regardless of the interpretations of this role, the situation in the South remains more complex and does not lend itself to subjecting the security situation there to the haggling over political agendas, since any new confrontation would be extremely costly for this country and may not end in a 'victory' similar to what happened last summer

Hezbollah's Continuing Work Post-ceasefire victories.
By Lokman Slim & Inga Schei
Feb 26/07 -NRO
While last summer’s hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah ended on August 14 with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, the struggle for Lebanon did not. In the five months since the ceasefire’s implementation, the pro-Iranian Islamist organization has launched a furious offensive to harness its postwar gains.
Though the Israeli army’s 34-day operation ravaged Lebanon’s landscape and put a dent in Hezbollah’s arsenal, the group’s mobilization efforts and propaganda machine never missed a beat. No sooner had the fighting ended did Hezbollah begin dispensing cash to bolster its constituency and rebuild damaged infrastructure.
On September 21, three days after the Winograd Commission began investigating the Israeli leadership’s war effort, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah declared a “divine and strategic victory” over the Jewish state. Speaking in bombed-out south Beirut, an emboldened Nasrallah proclaimed his opposition to be “stronger than ever.”
With one enemy down, Hezbollah set its sights on another: the anti-Syrian March 14th forces and the U.S.-backed government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. As Israeli forces evacuated southern Lebanon on October 1, Hezbollah grew more brazen. Determined to prevent Lebanon’s return to the status-quo ante, the Party of God demanded a number of political concessions: veto power in the cabinet, the resignation of Siniora’s government, the adoption of a new electoral law, and early elections.
When a national dialogue failed to address its demands, Hezbollah’s campaign escalated. On November 11, six pro-Syrian ministers, among them five Shia, resigned from the cabinet and left the government on the brink of collapse. On December 1, the group’s efforts intensified with an open-ended sit-in in downtown Beirut. On January 23, 2007, the crisis reached a crescendo when a Hezbollah-led strike paralyzed the country and resulted in deadly clashes. In his own words, Nasrallah has depicted this clash with the government as nothing less than a continuation of July war.
But no matter how this crisis plays out, Hezbollah can already claim success. First, Nasrallah has diverted attention away from two key international demands: the creation of a U.N.-mandated tribunal to try the murderers of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri; and the disarmament of Hezbollah as called for by UNSCR 1701 and previous resolutions. Hezbollah need only stonewall these initiatives until it can achieve greater representation and torpedo them indefinitely.
The postwar period has also shored up Hezbollah’s role as the sole representative of Lebanon’s Shiite community. While an embattled Siniora government would encounter difficulty in replacing the resigned ministers with independent Shiites, its failure to attempt or even suggest such a move confirms Hezbollah’s distinction as the community’s lone representative, even in the eyes of its adversaries. Naturally, Hezbollah’s consolidation of control over the Shiite community undermines the position of moderate Shiites who opposed the organization’s ideology and agenda — even before the 2006 war. As it coopts its critics and intimidates others, Hezbollah’s strong-arm tactics will continue to stifle Shiite dissent.
Huge gains have been made during the course of the reconstruction efforts as well. Amid the rubble of Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah has seized a golden opportunity to purchase real estate through questionable transactions in which it has coerced residents to sell their property and negotiate exclusively with the its representatives. These large tracts of land, which are already under construction, will be developed into parks, mosques, and community centers owned and operated by Hezbollah’s social-welfare machine. Throughout this process of rebuilding and expanding its unofficial capital neither the government nor the local community was able to exert any influence.
In terms of rehabilitating its military apparatus, the group wasted no time. Despite the postwar deployment of 12,000 UNIFIL and 15,000 Lebanese soldiers to southern Lebanon, Hezbollah has replenished its rocket supply and continues to receive weapons shipments through the porous Syrian border and the speech of February 16 was also the occasion to boast of this achievement. Though Hezbollah forces now operate underground, its personal fiefdom remains intact. In terms of actual sovereignty, the group still retains final say. UNIFIL seems to concur. When asked what action he would take in the event of renewed fighting between Hezbollah and Israel, former UNIFIL chief Alain Pellegrini said he would “beg” the parties to stop. Thus, if Hezbollah reignites the conflict with Israel, it is clear that neither UNIFIL nor the Lebanese Armed Forces will stand in its way.
The relative calm on the Israeli-Lebanese border is an illusion; Hezbollah remains alive and well. As the international community continues to pledge diplomatic, financial, and military support for Lebanon, it is imperative that the U.S. and its European allies counter Hezbollah’s power play which threatens to plunge the country back into the days of Syrian hegemony and inter-communal violence.
**— Lokman Slim and Inga Schei are director and research consultant, respectively, at Hayya Bina, a Lebanese pro-democracy initiative based in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

White House: U.S. won't talk to Syria, Iran directly
March 1, 2007
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials won't hold direct talks with Iran or Syria at a Baghdad conference next month despite the Bush administration's complaints that those countries are allowing weapons into Iraq, White House spokesman Tony Snow said Wednesday.
Direct talks would happen only if those countries made changes to their own policies. Iran would have to halt its uranium enrichment work and Syria would have to stop supporting groups Washington considers terrorist organizations, Snow said.
"If between now and the 10th of March the Iranians suspended reprocessing and enrichment, then you'd have a different ballpark," he said. "If the Syrians had changed their attitude toward Hamas and Hezbollah, OK."
A top Iranian official said Wednesday that his country "will participate" in Iraq's neighbors' conference next month "if it will be of help to Baghdad," according to a state-run Iranian news service.
Although the Bush administration has long accused Iran and Syria of meddling in Iraq, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group called for direct talks with those countries.
During a Senate hearing Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates painted U.S. attendance at the conference as a step toward carrying out one of the study group's major recommendations.
U.S. military officials in Iraq have accused Iran of providing deadly armor-piercing explosives and mortar shells to Shiite Muslim militias in Iraq, while the United States accuses Syria of allowing weapons and fighters to reach the Sunni insurgency in western Iraq across its border.
Both countries deny the allegations.
If concerns about the flow of weapons and fighters into Iraq come up at the Iraqi-sponsored conference, "obviously we will address them," Snow said. "But there will not be bilateral talks between the United States and Iran or the United States and Syria, within the context of these meetings."
Washington and Tehran have not had diplomatic relations since 1979, when Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy and held dozens of diplomats hostage for more than a year. But Snow said U.S. and Iranian officials have been "seated at the same table in multilateral negotiations" several times in the past few years, during aid conferences and in meetings at the United Nations.
However, he said, the Bush administration can't change policy while Iran is under a U.N. Security Council demand to halt its nuclear fuel program.
"It's important that people understand that this administration is serious when it comes to the Iranians about a precondition for bilateral negotiations and also for diplomatic relations, which is, they can't be working toward a nuclear weapon," he said.
Iran says it is enriching uranium for civilian power plants, but the United States accuses it of planning to develop a nuclear bomb. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency reported last week that it cannot assure the Security Council that the Iranian work is only for peaceful purposes.
Iraqi officials announced the neighbors conference on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said attendance by the United States, Syria and Iran would be an ice-breaking diplomatic event that would pave the way to foster cooperative efforts to help Iraq.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has accepted an invitation to the conference.
Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani confirmed that Zebari has asked his Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, to attend the conference, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
Also on the guest list for the sub-ministerial talks are representatives of Iraq's Persian Gulf neighbors, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia; Jordan, Egypt and Turkey; the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, which includes Russia, China, Britain, the United States and France; the United Nations, the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
The U.S. Embassy in Iraq said the initial meeting could be followed with another conference at the ministerial level.