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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

Encouraging Words From Iran

Iraqi leader receives assurances of support during a historic visit to the longtime foe.

November 22, 2005|From Reuters

TEHRAN — Jalal Talabani, the first Iraqi president to visit Iran in nearly four decades, received assurances Monday that Tehran supported its neighbor's transition to democracy.

Shiite Muslim Iran has repeatedly been accused of meddling in postwar Iraq, with Western and Iraqi officials charging that Iran permits weapons and insurgents to cross its borders.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said such accusations were unfounded and voiced by those who did not want better ties between Baghdad and Tehran, who fought each other to a standstill in a 1980-88 war.

"Such accusations will definitely not affect the expansion of relations between Iran and Iraq," he told reporters after a meeting with Talabani. "A popular, independent and developed Iraq will be the best friend of the Iranian nation."

"We totally support the political process that the Iraqi nation is undergoing that will ... guarantee its territorial integrity, independence and progress," he said.

Talabani, who was to meet Iran's foreign minister and top security official today, said his visit was aimed at strengthening political and commercial ties.

"We are sure that we will enjoy the Iranian government's cooperation in our struggle against terrorism," said Talabani, accompanied by national security advisor Mowaffak Rubaie.

Although Iranian and Iraqi officials were likely to hold cordial discussions on intelligence and security cooperation and efforts to stop insurgents and weapons from crossing their border, discussions will also touch on sensitive security subjects, an advisor to Rubaie said.

"This issue will be raised in talks. Dr. Rubaie has been very candid in previous talks on the supply of weapons to militias," said the advisor, who asked not to be named.

Rubaie held talks in Iran last week when both sides signed a security agreement designed to improve cross-border cooperation.

Iran's influence in former foe Iraq is one of the most volatile issues fueling sectarian tensions between Sunni Arabs once dominant under Saddam Hussein and long-oppressed Shiites empowered after elections in January.

Many in the Sunni community, which has been driving the insurgency in Iraq, see Shiite Iraqi leaders such as Islamist Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari as Iranian puppets because they were living in exile in the Islamic Republic before returning to Iraq.

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