TEHRAN (AFP) — Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki sought to reassure Iran over a planned security pact with Washington on Sunday, vowing 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 neighbours,” 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 programme, which the United States fears is aimed at making atomic weapons, a charge vehemently rejected by Tehran.
The United States has never ruled out a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities while Israel has also been warning there may be no alternative to military action.
“The agreement contains no element against the security of Iran,” said Iraqi Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart Mostafa 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 reported 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,” IRNA reported.
“The stability of Iraq can be reached through the development of bilateral relations” with Iran, Ahmadinejad added.
The Shiite 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 Shiite-majority Iraq waged a war between 1980 and 1988 in which around one million people died but ties have warmed considerably since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated regime.
Maliki, who lived in exile in Iran during Saddam’s dictatorship, is making his third visit to the country as prime minister. Ahmadinejad’s March visit to Iraq, the first by an Iranian president, was also hailed as a landmark in ties.
But some observers expect Maliki to use the talks to raise US allegations of Iranian interference in Iraqi affairs, a charge vehemently denied by predominantly Shiite Iran.
The United States 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.
The US military said on Sunday it had arrested an Iranian-linked militant suspected of leading assassination squad based in Iraq’s southern port city of 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.
US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker stressed in Washington on Thursday that Iran and Iraq were neighbours and had to conduct a relationship. “The question is: what kind of relationship is it going to be?” he said.
Irancove @ June 9, 2008