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Iran shifts attention to brokering peace in Iraq

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Talabani and other senior Iraqi leaders told US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General Petraeus that this "was an entirely different tone than we had ever heard from [Soleimani] before," and asked the Americans to "please take it seriously" and "test it," according to the official.

Mr. Crocker and Petraeus – who told Congress in April that Iran was waging a "proxy war" against the US in Iraq – expressed skepticism, noting how even the ambassador's Green Zone residence had recently come under fire from 240-mm rockets made in Iran.

The top two US officials in Iraq dismissed Soleimani's words as an Iranian bid to become an "indispensable power broker" in Iraq as part of a "brilliant tactical game" meant to keep the US and Iraqi governments "off balance" and to spread Iran's influence in Iraq, according to the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But Crocker agreed to wait and see if Iran had "truly made a strategic readjustment," according to this US account, adding that "actions need to be visible" and "we will know soon enough."

The suspicion matches the continuing hostile rhetoric from both sides. As he left for Israel, President Bush on Monday called Iran the "single biggest threat" to peace in the Middle East. Just days before, Iran's supreme religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lambasted American support for the Jewish state and called the US military presence in the Persian Gulf "the source of insecurity in this very sensitive region."

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