Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with his Iraq counterpart Barham Salih in Tehran on Saturday morning. Photo: Iranian presidency via AFP
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – The presidents of Iraq and Iran have cemented ties between their nations – stressing their historical, religious, and geographic ties at a time when the US is trying to isolate Iran. The two discussed boosting trade volumes, establishing a free trade zone, and building a railway link.
Iraqi President Barham Salih travelled to Tehran with a “clear message” from Baghdad, he told reporters in a joint press conference with his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani on Saturday.
"We in Iraq care about our relations with Iran,” he said.
He called to mind Iran’s support for Iraq fighting Saddam Hussein and defeating ISIS and said the two nations that share a nearly 1,500-kilometre-long border “deserve better relations.”
The United States is pressuring Iraq to cut off ties with Iran, which US President Donald Trump has called the greatest state sponsor of terror. His administration gave Baghdad until the end of December to end its reliance on Iranian natural gas and electricity – something the oil ministry has said they cannot do.
Baghdad has repeatedly said they will not allow Iraq to be a battlefield between Iran and the US.
"We emphasize that Iraq has to be a place where the interests of all parties are collected, rather than an arena of conflict for various parties,” said Salih.
His visit is a clear statement to the United States that Iraq will not cut ties with Iran, but will actually increase them.
Salih and Rouhani announced they intend to establish a free trade zone on their shared border and will boost trade.
"The economic exchange between the two countries is $12 billion and we can increase this to $20 billion,” said Rouhani.
They also discussed oil and natural gas, electricity production, shared water resources and environmental concerns, and building a rail link to ease access to Iraq’s holy Islamic sites.
Updated at 1:12 pm