Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Baghdad on Monday on the second leg of his regional tour that began with a visit to the tiny Persian Gulf nation of Qatar.
Upon his arrival in Iraq, Zarif met with his Iraqi counterpart Fuad Hussein. At the beginning of the meeting, Zarif extended the Iranian nation and government’s condolences to the Iraqi nation and government, especially the families of the victims of the recent tragic incident at Ibn Khatib Hospital in Baghdad, which resulted in the deaths and injuries of dozens of Iraqi citizens.
A massive explosion rocked Ibn al-Khatib hospital on Saturday after an oxygen cylinder exploded in an intensive care ward at the hospital.
Foreign Minister Zarif then welcomed Iraq’s regional role in strengthening regional relations and the cooperation of the countries of the region with each other, and expressed Iran’s support for Baghdad’s constructive role, according to a statement published by the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The Iranian foreign minister further expressed concern over the ISIS terrorist group’s recent activities in Iraq, and said a serious fight against these efforts requires that Iran and Iraq cooperate with each other once again.
He also stressed the significance of pursuing the case of the assassination of Lt. General Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mehdi Al-Muhandis and their comrades, and praised the Iraqi government’s efforts in this regard as well as the country’s judicial cooperation during the Iranian Judiciary chief’s trip to Baghdad.
Emphasizing respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Iraq, Foreign Minister Zarif reiterated Tehran’s opposition to certain military actions in Iraq, including the ones against diplomatic missions, and announced the readiness of the Islamic Republic of Iran to assist Iraq in preventing such actions.
In turn, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein expressed satisfaction with the trend of Iran’s nuclear deal talks with the P4+1 group of countries and elaborated on Iraq’s regional policy of bringing the viewpoints of regional countries closer together.
The Iraqi foreign minister also stressed the need to resolve certain trivial issues in the implementation of the agreements and memoranda of understanding between the two countries.
Following up the agreements reached during the Iranian president’s visit to Iraq, settlement of Iraq’s debts to Iran, transportation and railway issues, visa problems of Iranian businessmen, certain problems hindering the activity of Iranian technical-engineering companies in Iraq, and financial issues were among other issues discussed by the two ministers.
After meeting Hussein, Zarif met with Iraqi President Barham Salih and discussed issues of mutual interest, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
During his meeting with Salih, Zarif described Baghdad’s role in regional issues as effective and important.
He also expounded on Tehran’s viewpoint on the necessity of the existence of a security system in the region with the presence of all Persian Gulf countries which has already been proposed by Iran within the framework of the Hormuz Peace Endeavor (HOPE).
Zarif touched upon the Tehran-Baghdad agreements in different fields, and highlighted the need to make the necessary arrangements to implement those agreements without any bureaucratic barrier.
The Iraqi president, in turn, described mutual relations as important and expounded on his viewpoints with regards to the immediate implementation of the agreements reached by both sides.
Among other topics discussed in the meeting were issues related to terrorism and extremism in the region, financial issues, mutual cooperation at regional level as well as cooperation with other countries.
In addition to Salih, the chief Iranian diplomat met with Iraqi Parliament Speaker Muhammad al-Halbusi as part of his meetings with senior Iraqi officials in Baghdad. During the meeting, Zarif highlighted Tehran’s emphasis on regional convergence, and welcomed Iraq’s constructive role in that regard.
Zarif said the implementation of the Iraqi parliament’s legislation on the withdrawal of foreign troops amounts to respect for Iraq’s sovereignty.
“The Americans killed Hajj Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi (al-Muhandis) on the Iraqi soil,” said Zarif.
Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif said the upcoming elections in Iran and Iraq symbolize democracy in both countries, and wished Iraq luck in holding a calm election.
The top Iraqi parliamentarian, in turn, highlighted the Iraqi government and parliament’s role in helping shape a tranquil atmosphere in the region, and expressed hope the ground will be prepared to boost trade between Iran and Iraq.
Also on Monday, Zarif attended an Iftar banquet hosted by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Monday evening.
In this meeting, Foreign Minister Zarif praised the Iraqi prime minister’s special efforts to pursue the existing cases in bilateral and regional relations related to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and elaborated on the latest developments in Iran’s negotiations with the P4+1.
The chief Iranian diplomat appreciated Iraq’s support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and a removal of the United States’ cruel and unilateral sanctions on Iran.
Zarif also referred to certain problems with the relations of Iranian companies and economic groups working in the fields of commerce, transport, and technical-engineering services as well as financial issues, and called for Iraq’s assistance in resolving them.
The Iraqi prime minister, in turn, stressed that Baghdad’s view of Iran does not just fall within the framework of neighborliness, but Iran is a strategic partner of Iraq.
He pointed to Iran’s support for Iraq in the fight against ISIS, and said the history will never forget the stance adopted by Iran.
The Iranian foreign minister also met with Iraqi Sunni leaders. He sat down with Secretary-General of the Arabic Project party Khamis al-Khanjar as well as a host of Sunni representatives of the Iraqi Parliament and other prominent Sunni figures.
In the session, which was part of Zarif’s meetings with Iraqi political and religious figures, the top diplomat touched upon Tehran’s opposition to sectarianism as well as the necessity of unity in the Islamic community and among different groups, according to the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
Zarif also referred to the status of holy Quds in Iran’s foreign policy, saying Tehran will continue to stand by world Muslims of different faiths despite all existing pressures.
He added Iran’s behavior is defined based on partnership with its friends.
He underscored the need for a logical and rational relationship between Iraqi groups, saying Tehran respects the diversity of religious, ethnic and political groups in Iraq.
In addition to Khamis al-Khanjar, some other top members of the Arabic Project party were also present at the meeting where they discussed, in detail, their viewpoints about Iraqi issues.
The Iranian foreign minister also met with Iraqi Shiite and political leaders including former prime ministers. During the meeting, Zarif had a detailed exchange of views with these leaders and explained the views of the Islamic Republic regarding various issues.
He underlined the importance for all Iraqi factions to maintain unity in order to advance Iraq’s goals and described Iraq’s position in the region as important.
Zarif further emphasized the view of the Islamic Republic on supporting a united and powerful Iraq. He also explained to the participants the latest developments related to bilateral relations with Iraq and regional issues of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the developments in the dialogue with the P4+1 countries.
The Iranian foreign minister described his Monday talks in Iraq as excellent.
“Excellent talks in #Iraq with President @BarhamSalih, PM @MAKadhimi, Speaker Halbousi, FM @Fuad_Hussein1 & senior Sunni & Shia leaders. Emphasized that Iran’s priority is its neighbors. We welcome Iraq’s pivotal role in the region. More meetings in Baghdad & Erbil today,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
Zarif’s visit to Iraq came after several foreign news media outlets reported that Iraq has hosted a rare direct meeting between Iran and Saudi Arabia in early April. The chief Iranian diplomat thanked Iraq for facilitating talks in the region but he stopped short of confirming the April talks. “We thank the Iraqi government for its efforts to establish dialogue in the region, and we hope that these efforts will lead to more dialogue and more serious understanding in the region,” Zarif pointed out.
Officially, Iran and Saudi Arabia were tight-lipped about the Baghdad talks, refusing to confirm the talks but they also refrained from repudiating them. According to the Western press reports, another round of talks between Tehran and Riyadh is expected to take place in the coming weeks.