Middle East

Iraqi PM in talks on Syria during Iran trip

A handout picture released by the official website of the Iranian president shows Iran's First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri (R) meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki during the latter's welcoming ceremony in Tehran on December 4, 2013. Maliki arrived in Iran, state television reported, for two days of talks that will also focus on the conflict raging in Syria. AFP PHOTO / HO / PRESIDENT.IR

TEHRAN: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran Wednesday, state television reported, for two days of talks that will also focus on the conflict raging in Syria.

It is Maliki’s first visit to Tehran since Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who champions engagement with the West, became Iran’s president in August after defeating a pool of conservative candidates in a June election.

Maliki’s spokesman Ali Mussawi told AFP in Baghdad the premier’s talks would focus on energy cooperation and “the necessity of fighting terrorism.”

Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, while Iraq has suffered from a surge in attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), an Al-Qaeda affiliate battling Assad’s regime.

ISIS has exploited the chaos in Syria and launched attacks on both sides of Syria’s border with Iraq.

“The meeting touched on Syria and the two sides said the solution should be peaceful and a military option does not represent a solution,” Mussawi said of Maliki’s talks Wednesday. “Both sides said that there should be cooperation in order to reach a peaceful solution.”

Maliki said, according to Mussawi: “The whole world should unite in confronting terrorism.”

Iran’s official IRNA news agency said Maliki was to meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

However, Mussawi said a Maliki-Rouhani meeting was not on the agenda.

During his trip, Maliki is also due to visit Mashhad, a Shiite pilgrimage city in the northeast revered by the majority communities in both countries.

Iran and Iraq are important trading partners. Tehran signed a contract to export gas to Baghdad in July, in a deal worth $3.7 billion a year.

However, the neighbors are also at odds over the next secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, with both fiercely backing their respective candidates in a vote which began in Vienna Wednesday.

Another topic likely to be raised is Iraq hosting former rebels of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran at a camp near Baghdad.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 05, 2013, on page 1.




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