By Stuart WilliamsAgence France Presse
June 9, 2008
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sought to reassure Iran over a planned security pact with Washington on Sunday, vowing that Iraq would never be used as a platform to attack the Islamic Republic. "We will not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran and neighbors," Maliki said after a late-night meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in Tehran.
Maliki's comments come amid Iranian alarm over American pressure on Baghdad to sign an agreement that would keep US soldiers in the country beyond 2008. Iran has always called for the immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. US President George W. Bush and Maliki agreed in principle last November to sign the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the end of July. But Iraq has now said it has a "different vision" from the United States on the issue.
Iran's concern about the deal comes amid renewed tensions over its nuclear program, which the United States fears is aimed at making atomic weapons, a charge vehemently rejected by Tehran. The US has never ruled out a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, and Israel has threatened an attack of its own.
"The agreement contains no element against the security of Iran," Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel-Qader Jassim Mohammed said after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Mustafa Mohammad Najjar. "No Iraqi government will allow that its territory be used to attack Iran or another country," he added, according to a translation of his comments re-ported by the Fars news agency.
Maliki also met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said that Iraq had to achieve stability "so that the enemies give up trying to influence this country," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"The stability of Iraq can be reached through the development of bilateral relations" with Iran, Ahmadinejad added. The premier also held talks with First Vice President Parviz Davoudi and Iran's top national security official, Saeed Jalili. In a sign of the sensitivity of the visit, there was little media access to Maliki's meetings, with no press conference and the information communicated through official Iranian media.
Iran and Iraq waged a war between 1980 and 1988 in which around 1 million people died but ties have warmed considerably since the US-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, who started the war by launching an invasion - for which he received substantial US and Western support. Maliki, who lived in exile in Iran during Saddam's rule, is making his third visit to the country as premier. Ahmadinejad's March visit to Iraq, the first by an Iranian president, was also hailed as a landmark in ties.
But some observers expected Maliki to use the talks to raise US allegations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, a charge vehemently denied by predominantly Shiite Iran. The US has accused Iran of shipping in tank-busting munitions for attacks on US troops, training Shiite militants inside Iran for operations in Iraq and supplying rockets for attacks in central Baghdad. Iran dismissed the allegations, arguing that Iraq's troubles are due largely to US occupation.
The US military said on Sunday it had arrested an alleged Iranian-linked militant suspected of leading assassination squad based in Basra and aiding rebels to cross the border to Iran for training. Last month, Maliki formed a panel of security ministries to assess the US accusations. Washington was troubled by the apparent warmth of ties displayed during Maliki's last visit to Iran in August 2007 and will be closely watching his latest trip. The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, stressed in Washington last week that Iran and Iraq were neighbors and had to conduct a relationship: "The question is," he said, "what kind of relationship is it going to be?"
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