New Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrived in Iran yesterday, his first official visit abroad since taking office more than two months ago, Iranian media reported.
State television showed footage of al-Kadhimi landing at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran.
It said al-Khadhimi would meet top Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani.
“We hope to have constructive talks for deepening relations” between the two nations, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said.
The visit came after Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Baghdad over the weekend — his first visit to Iraq since a US airstrike in January killed a top Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s international airport.
The strike catapulted Iraq to the brink of a US-Iran proxy war that could have destabilized the Middle East.
In Baghdad, Zarif paid a visit to the site where Soleimani was killed, saying “Iran-Iraq relations will not be shaken,” despite the general’s death.
Soleimani led Iran’s expeditionary Quds Force and was the architect of its regional military activities.
A former intelligence chief backed by Washington, al-Kadhimi took office in May after he had played a significant part for years in the war against the Islamic State group, which was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017.
He had planned a visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday, before his trip to Tehran, but postponed it following news that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz was admitted to a hospital in the capital, Riyadh.
Iran sees Iraq as a possible route to bypass Washington sanctions that US President Donald Trump reimposed on Tehran in 2018, after pulling the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Last year, Iran’s exports to Iraq amounted to nearly US$9 billion, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported yesterday, adding that the two nations would discuss increasing that amount to US$20 billion.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak, religious tourism between Iraq and Iran has stopped. Before the pandemic, about 5 million tourists — bringing in nearly US$5 billion a year — visited Shiite holy sites in the two countries.
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