Iraq PM meets Ahmadinejad at start of visit

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, shakes hands with Iranian  Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi during his official arrival ceremony in  Tehran, Iran, Saturday, April 22, 2012.

TEHRAN: Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met Iranian President Mahmoud  Ahmadinejad on Sunday at the start of a two-day visit to boost relations between  their Muslim states.

“If Tehran and Baghdad are strong, the region will have no place for the  United States and the Zionist regime,” Ahmadinejad said, quoted by state news  agency IRNA, in reference to Tehran’s arch-foe Israel.

He said there was “no limit to the strengthening of political, economic and  cultural ties” between them.

Such moves would serve to “boost stability and security in the region,”  chimed in Maliki, who also held talks with parliament speaker Ali Larijani.

The visit notably comes ahead of a May 23 meeting to be hosted in Baghdad  between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers on Tehran’s disputed nuclear  programme.

The mission underlines the current good ties between the two  Shiite-dominated administrations — a far cry from the war in the 1980s when  Baghdad was run by Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-led government.

Maliki, who was at the head of a delegation of ranking Iraqi political and  economic officials, was also to see Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed  Jalili, and to attend a meeting of the Iran-Iraq joint economic commission.

It was Maliki’s first visit to Tehran since October 2010, when he was trying  to secure regional backing for a second term as premier following inconclusive  March parliamentary polls.

Iraq and Iran have similar positions on the crisis in Syria, where the  regime of Iranian ally President Bashar al-Assad has been carrying out a bloody  crackdown on an uprising against his rule, in which thousands have died.

But there are some contentious issues between the two countries, including  the diversion by Iran of rivers that flow into Iraq, as well as borders and  oil.