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FM says Iran attaches 'high importance` to Iraq ties

Tehran, Aug 29, IRNA -- Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Monday Iran attaches 'high importance` to its ties with Iraq as Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh arrived in Tehran for an official visit.

Talking to reporters in a joint news conference after his talks with the Iraqi official, Kharrazi said the two sides had agreed to choose 'various mechanisms for discussing their issues of interest`.

The Iranian foreign minister expressed hope that 'with the discussions held today and future discussions, we will witness relations between the two countries become broader and deeper'.

Kharrazi said one of the key issues brought up in his talks with Saleh was the fate of Iranian diplomat Fereidoun Jahani and several other Iranians who have been kidnapped in Iraq, including staff of Iran's cooperatives chamber in Baghdad.

"We hope the Iraqi government will make its utmost effort to stablish the fate of the kidnapped Iranian diplomat and secure the release of representatives of the cooperatives chamber, arrested in Iraq," he said.

Jahani was kidnapped earlier this month by a group calling itself Islamic Army in Iraq on the way to Karbala where he was to assume his consular post.

The group, said to have slain Italian journalist Enzo Baldoni, later threatened to punish Jahani within 48 hours if Iran did not release 500 prisoners captured in the two countries war of 1980 and 1988.

A statement released by the group also alleged that Jahani was 'detained for stirring sectarian strife and for activities outside his diplomatic duties' in Iraq.

Four Iranian businessmen working to improve trade ties with Iraq have also been arrested in the past month by U.S. troops who reportedly handed them over to Iraqi police.

Officials have said that Iran holds the interim Iraqi government responsible for the safety of its nationals.

Iraqi deputy prime minister is reportedly visiting to make preparations for Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's trip to the Islamic Republic following Vice President Ibrahim al-Jafari's surprise visit to Tehran Tuesday.

"I am carrying the friendship message of the Iraqi government and nation for the Iranian government and people," Saleh said at the start of his visit to Tehran.

"The Iraqi government looks in earnest to peace and coexistence with its neighbors, especially Iran," he added.

Iran is still reeling from a destructive war which the former Iraqi dictator imposed on the two countries between 1980 and 1988.

Saleh said, "Saddam Hussein used to harm Iran and create tensions, but Iraq of today seeks to expand and deepen its relations with Iran."

"We have mobilized all our efforts in Iraq to resolve the remaining problems between the two sides since we have enormous common interests in the areas of religion, politics and economy," he added.

Asked about the situation in Najaf, the Iraqi deputy prime minister expressed his satisfaction with the establishment of peace and tranquility in the holy city under the initiative of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. "Ayatollah Sistani's initiative brought about a very good result and I hope that this initiative will further lead to the dissolution of all armed groups and extremists and return of security and independence to Iraq," Saleh said.

Iraq's Interior Minister Fallah al-Naqib and the country`s Minister of Transportation Behnam Zia Boulos are accompanying Saleh in the visit.

The Iraqi deputy prime minister hoped that Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's visit to Tehran would go ahead in `the earliest` and the trip 'will pave the way for expansion of cooperation between the two countries'.

Both visits by Saleh and Allawi will lend added momentum to the countries' bid to mend fences after a period of bitter recrimination in the wake of a few Iraqi officials' accusations and disappearance of several Iranians in the war-ravaged country.

Allawi has welcomed invitation to Tehran, stressing "we want establishment of good relations with neighboring countries, especially Iran."

The Iraqi prime minister has been in pains to clarify Defense Minister Hazem al-Shalaan's statements, accusing Iran of interference in Iraq's domestic affairs.

The Iraqi prime minister has stressed that 'the complaint` had only been made against 'unofficial figures` in Iran and that Shalaan's anti-Iranian statements had been misconstrued.

Tehran, on its part, has played down the minister's remarks, saying they do not reflect Baghdad's official stance on Iran.

"I will also visit Iran. We have no problems with our neighbors," Allawi was quoted as saying Monday in Der Spiegel magazine.

Iranian officials have welcomed Allawi's visit, saying it is a 'positive step` in bilateral ties between the two countries which went into a destructive war between 1980 and 1988 under Saddam Hussein's rule.

Calling security between the two countries as 'intertwined`, Iranian officials have pledged to 'frankly` discuss their issues of concern and 'prepare grounds for establishment of sustainable and consolidated ties'.

On Friday, the Iraqi police freed IRNA reporter in Baghdad Mostafa Darban, whom they had arrested along three other IRNA journalists on August 9.

... Payvand News - 8/29/04 ... --

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