President Jalal Talabani said that the United States was negotiating with Iraqi resistance groups through intermediaries. In an interview, he said that he backed the talks and would encourage resistance leaders to take up dialogue.

Talabani's remarks contradict U.S. statements that it is not in direct or indirect contact with Iraqi resistance groups.

"I still stand by my decision … regarding dialogue with Iraqi armed groups who are willing to conduct talks with us. We are ready to meet them whenever they want.

"If they want to talk to us, we must listen. The doors of the president of the republic must be open to everyone … There have been indirect talks between Americans and these groups. In principle I have no objections. I believe in dialogue," the president said.

However, he said, he would object to talking to what he described as "Saddamist and fundamentalist groups," and fighters entering the country from abroad.

On the current political crisis in the country, Talabani said he was optimistic that a solution which will satisfy the country's different factions will be found.

General elections were held last December for a four-year Parliament and government, but the announcement of results has been delayed due to accusations of fraud.

Talabani said he is trying to bring the disparate Iraqi factions together in the hope of forming a national government that will not only include the electoral victors.

Despite his ceremonial post [as President], Talabani is playing a pivotal role in the nation's politics.

He is one of the few Iraqi leaders to have won the trust of various political, ethnic and sectarian groups.

"Participation in the formation of a national government" by all groups is necessary for reconciliation, he said.

Talabani, a Kurd, said he has held meetings with all major players on the Iraqi political arena since the December elections, and that he had gleaned from his meetings that reconciliation in Iraq is possible. "Everyone is with the idea of forming a national government and everyone agrees that this will require concessions and rapprochement."

Under the new Constitution, the president has a mere ceremonial role, and Talabani has insisted that he would not continue unless his responsibilities were expanded.

"The president of the republic must have a role to play in the running of the State," he said, adding that otherwise he saw no point in staying.