Iran president calls Iraqi premier's visit 'turning point'
Mustafa al-Kadhimi arrived on his first official visit abroad since taking office more than two months ago, Iranian media reported.
State television showed footage of Kadhimi landing at Tehran's Mehrabad airport. The TV outlet said Khadhimi would meet top Iranian leaders, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Rouhani.
The official website of the office of the Iranian presidency later released a photo of Rouhani and Kadhimi at a welcome ceremony in Tehran, showing both wearing protective face masks to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.
"We are certain that the visit will be a turning point in relations between the two countries," Rouhani said after meeting with the Iraqi premier. "We still remain ready to stand by the Iraqi nation and apply efforts for stability and security in Iraq and the region."
Kadhimi replied: "Iraq will not allow the posing of any threat from its soil against Iran."
Iran sees the US military presence in Iraq a threat to Tehran.
The visit came after Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif traveled to Baghdad over the weekend. It was Zarif's first visit to Iraq since a US airstrike in January killed a top Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, outside Baghdad's international airport.
In Baghdad, Zarif paid a visit to the site where Soleimani was killed, saying "Iran-Iraq relations will not be shaken" despite the general's death. Soleimani led Iran's expeditionary Quds Force and was the architect of its regional military activities.
In Tehran, Kadhimi said Iraq's foreign policy is based on "balance and avoiding any alignment". The Iraqi premier said his country seeks to improve relations with Iran "based on non-intervention in domestic affairs of the two countries".
A former intelligence chief backed by Washington, Kadhimi took office in May after he had played a significant part for years in the war against the Islamic State group, which was declared defeated in Iraq in 2017.
The Iraqi prime minister had planned a visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday, before his trip to Tehran, but postponed it following news that Saudi King Salman was admitted to a hospital in the capital, Riyadh.
Iran sees Iraq as a possible route to bypass US sanctions that President Donald Trump re-imposed on Tehran in 2018, after pulling America out of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Last year, Iran's exports to Iraq amounted to nearly $9 billion, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday. It said the two nations will discuss increasing that amount to $20 billion.
Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, religious tourism between Iraq and Iran has stopped. Before the pandemic, some 5 million tourists — bringing in nearly $5 billion a year — visited Shia holy sites in the two countries.
Under former dictator Saddam Hussein, Iraq waged an eight-year war in the 1980s against Iran, a conflict that left nearly 1 million killed on both sides.
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