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Iran/Iraq: Bilateral Ties Improving Despite U.S. Worries

President Talabani (file photo) (RFE/RL) Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is on a three-day visit to Tehran. He is the first Iraqi president to visit Iran in nearly four decades. Talabani has held talks with the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is also due to meet with Foreign minister Manuchehr Motaki. Iraqi-Iranian ties are improving despite Washington accusations that Tehran is meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs.

Prague, 22 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani yesterday called Iran "a brother country" and said that he has come to Tehran to deepen strategic relations and get help in rooting out terrorism in Iraq.

"As the president of the Islamic Republic [of Iran] said, a secured Iraq, an independent Iraq is in the interest not only of the Iraqi government but of the Iranian people also," Talabani said. "I think [Iran] will help us by all means to face terrorist activities, especially that you know, the terrorists are now launching a war of annihilation against the Iraqi people, starting with Shi'ites, Kurds, and those who are refusing to obey their orders."

“Iran and Iraq will always remain in this region, the others, however, will eventually leave.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Tehran and Baghdad have “one soul in two bodies” and said that Iran supports a democratic, independent, and developed Iraq.

"We totally support the political process which covers the national sovereignty of Iraqi nations and territorial integrity, and independence and development in Iraq."

The two presidents said in their press conference that they intend to develop relations in all fields.

There are reports that an agreement on border security will be finalized during the visit. It is aimed at preventing the Mujahedin Khalq Organization (MEK), based in Iraq, from infiltrating Iranian territory, and terrorist groups from entering Iraq via Iran.

Relations between the two neighbors have improved significantly since the formation of the new Iraqi government, dominated by Shi'ite and Kurdish figures who were backed by Tehran during Saddam Hussein's rule.

Top officials from both countries have exchanged visits. Several agreements on cooperation in trade, reconstruction, and security have been signed.

Hassan Fathi, a journalist based in Tehran, told RFE/RL that Talabani’s trip to Iran is another sign of the improving ties between the two former enemies, who fought a bloody war in the 1980s.

He says Talabani has two main goals. “First, Talabani wants to use the friendship with Iran for the benefits of his own faction, the Kurds. He wants to use Iran’s weight during the elections and other developments. His second goal is that he wants to use the Iranian influence over Iraqi groups who are against the current situation so that that he can bring order and calm in Iraq and bring an end to the differences.”

The warming of ties between Iran and Iraq come amid U.S. accusations that Iran is helping terrorists enter Iraq and fomenting tension between the Shi'ite majority and Sunni minority.

The British government has also accused Iran of interfering in southern Iraq. Tehran has repeatedly denied the claims.

Yesterday President Ahmadinejad said that the ties beween the two countries are very old. Many Iraqis have been born in Iran, and Iranians in Iraq. He said claims of Iranian interference come “from those people who have brought hundreds of thousands of troops to Iraq and are imposing their views on Iraqi nation.”

Fathi says differences between U.S. and Iranian interests in Iraq have led to tensions between the two countries.

“The U.S. wants its own ideals of democracy to be achieved in Iraq and it wants to build Iraq according to its own model. Iran wants to have a [friendly] government in its neighborhood. And it also wants people who are friendly toward Tehran to be in power. Currently the U.S. has the last word in Iraq. Because of this, I believe that if Iran wants to have constructive relations with Iraq, it should not get involved in issues that will trigger U.S. opposition. Iran should take actions that are not against U.S. interests in Iraq; in such case we could witness a [confrontation] with the U.S. in Iraq.”

Today in Tehran, Talabani met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who called the presence of foreign forces in Iraq “destructive” and said that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government should therefore prepare a timetable for their withdrawal.

In comments quoted by Iran’s official news agency IRNA, Talabani said “Iran and Iraq will always remain in this region, the others, however, will eventually leave.”