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Iraqi Prime Minister In Iran For Security Talks

August 8, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is in Iran on a three-day visit. It is al-Maliki's second visit to Iran since taking office in May 2006.

Al-Maliki arrived in Tehran following a visit to Turkey. He is accompanied on his trip by several high-ranking officials, including Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

Al-Maliki has scheduled meeting with top Iranian officials, including President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Security Tops The Agenda

Al-Maliki is seen as seeking help from Tehran in stepping up counterterrorism efforts in the region as well as support for his war-torn country.

In Ankara on August 7, al-Maliki said after a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that the two countries agreed to join efforts to fight terrorists in Iraq.

"We reached an understanding with the Turkish side to work together to deal with the activities of terrorist organizations in all parts of Iraq, and among those organizations is the PKK [Kurdistan Workers Party]," al-Maliki said. "We agreed to unify our joint efforts to find a solution to abolish and eliminate the presence of the PKK and the fact of its existence on Iraqi territory."

Relations between Baghdad and Tehran have improved significantly since the fall of the Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime in Iraq, and especially since al-Maliki took office in May 2006.

However, al-Maliki's visit to Tehran comes at a time of increasing pressure on his government at home and also amid accusations by Washington that Iran has stepped up its support for antigovernment militants in Iraq.

Shi'ite Ties

Al-Maliki, a Shi'a, lived in Shi'a-majority Iran for several years in exile. RFE/RL analyst Kathleen Ridolfo says this is a factor that may play a role in the negotiations between the two countries.

"Al-Maliki is, of course, a Shi'ite leader and the Shi'ites have very close ties to Iran and so there are a lot of questions in the minds of some observers wondering whether or not this is aimed at colluding or in some way strengthening those ties between the [Iraqi] Shi'ites and the Iranian regime or whether the talks are more general," Ridolfo says.

The United States has criticized Iran's alleged support for Shi'ite militants in Iraq. Tehran has denied the accusations and repeatedly said that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq is the reason for instability there.

Al-Maliki has been a strong supporter of talks between Iran and the United States in Baghdad that are aimed at halting the violence in his country. The two sides have already had three rounds of talks where they discussed security issues, including the creation of a committee aimed at bringing security and stability to Iraq.

Al-Maliki will likely seek assurances from the Iranian leadership to support security in his country and also to continue talks with Washington.

More Than Just Words?

However, Ridolfo notes that despite positive rhetoric, little has been done in the past on the political front between the two countries.

Al-Maliki himself said that this time he senses "seriousness and inclination from both sides." He was speaking to Iran's Arabic-language channel "Al-Alam" on August 7.

Al-Maliki's visit also comes on the 19th anniversary of the cease-fire agreement between Baghdad and Tehran that ended the bloody eight-year war (1980-88) between Iraq and Iran in which nearly a million people were killed.


Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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