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Iraq Transition

U.S., Iran to hold first formal talks in 27 years

Story Highlights

• U.S., Iran to talk about Iraq's security, not detainees or nuclear program
• Tehran says it has uncovered several U.S.-run spy rings
• U.S. broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 in midst of seizure of U.S. Embassy
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- U.S. diplomats said Monday's scheduled talks with Iran will be limited to discussions about Iraq's security, and not about the unresolved issues of detained Americans in Iran or the country's nuclear program.

The meeting in Baghdad will be the first public and formal meeting between U.S. and Iranian representatives since the United States cut off diplomatic relations 27 years ago.

"The issue at hand in the meeting between [U.S. Ambassador to Iraq] Ryan Crocker and the Iranian representative ... is going to be focused on Iraq and stabilizing Iraq," U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said last week.

An Iraqi delegation will also be present at the talks, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN.

The purpose of the meeting, Zebari said, is to "help ease tensions between the U.S. and Iran."

"We are not expecting miracles but it is in our interest for such a dialogue to start," Zebari said.

Tehran says it has found U.S.-run spy rings

Tehran said on state-run media over the weekend that it has uncovered several U.S.-run spy rings inside Iran and would release more details in the coming days. There was no immediate response from the White House. (Full story)

Tehran recently arrested Haleh Esfandiari, one of four Iranian-Americans detained in Tehran, on the suspicion of conducting activities against the Iranian government, an accusation dismissed by Washington.

The State Department has repeatedly called for Esfandiari's release, as well as for more information about three other Iranian-Americans who have been detained, imprisoned or had their passports revoked.

In addition, Robert Levinson, an American and retired FBI agent, has been missing since March 8, when he was last seen on Iran's Kish Island.

Washington's attempts to obtain information have been hampered by the lack of diplomatic ties between the two countries.

No talk of prisoner swap expected

The U.S. military is holding seven "Iranian intelligence service personnel" in Iraq, spokesman Maj. Gen. William Caldwell told CNN's "Late Edition" in an interview taped Friday.

Tehran has referred to five of the Iranians who were arrested in January as "diplomats" and is seeking their release.

When asked if he thought a prisoner swap would be discussed at Monday's meeting, Caldwell said "there's nothing of that nature that I know of."

He said the Iranians were "detained just like anybody else who has broken the law" in Iraq.

These disputes come amid an international showdown over Iran's nuclear program. U.S. officials have said Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons, though Iran says the program is for civilian energy purposes only.

A report issued Wednesday by the United Nations' nuclear watchdog -- the International Atomic Energy Agency -- said Iran has not only ignored the call to halt its nuclear work but has also increased its activities.

That prompted U.S. and British diplomats at the United Nations to announce they would press ahead for new sanctions against Iran. The U.N. Security Council has so far imposed two rounds of limited sanctions on Iran.

A senior U.N. official told CNN that Iran increased its uranium enrichment centrifuges from 40 last year to 1,600.

"They are going at a rate where by the end of June they could have 3,000," the official said.

Uranium enriched to a high degree can be used for weapons grade material.

But neither the nuclear program nor the status of the detainees will be on the table at Monday's meeting in Baghdad between the American and Iranian delegations, U.S. officials have said.

Talks mark rare meeting between U.S., Iran

The Iraq Study group late last year called on the Bush administration to initiate talks with Iran and Syria.

The United States broke off diplomatic ties with Iran in April 1980 in the midst of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy. Iranian students occupied the embassy from November 1979 until January 1981, when they released the remaining 52 hostages.

While Monday's meeting is the first time U.S. and Iranian diplomats meet bilaterally, they have taken part in informal meetings with Iraq's neighbors in recent months.

CNN's Liz Neisloss contributed to this report



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