UPDATE – Iraqi president pays visit to Tehran

ADDS MEETING WITH KHAMENEI

By Ibrahim Salih, Ali Mohamed and Muhammet Kursun

BAGHDAD/TEHRAN (AA) – Iraq's president met with Iranian leaders on Saturday amid an official visit to the Iranian capital of Tehran to discuss bilateral relations and regional issues.

Following a meeting with Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani, Salih told a press conference that the two countries were seeking to bolster the volume of their trade exchange.

“We have close relations with Iran and we are keen on developing them,” he said.

“We want Iraq to be an area for conciliation between the region’s countries, not an area for conflict,” he said, in reference to the current tension between the U.S. and Iran.

Salih’s visit to Iran is the first by the Iraqi president since he assumed office last month.

Rouhani, for his part, said his talks with the Iraqi leader tackled energy cooperation between the two countries.

“We also discussed the extension of a rail line between the Iranian city of Shalamjah and Basra in southern Iraq,” he said.

“We seek to increase the volume of the trade exchange with Iraq to $20 billion annually,” Rouhani said.

Salih also met with the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as part of his visit.

Bilateral relations and regional issues were on the agenda of the meeting, in which Khameni stressed that unity among Iraq’s constituent ethnics and religious groups was necessary to resist “spiteful governments” plotting against Iraq and the region.

Salih underlined the two countries’ historical ties as well as Baghdad’s reconstruction efforts, saying that he aimed to turn Iraq into a "strong" country in the region.

The remarks by the Iraqi and Iranian leaders come against recent sanctions imposed by the U.S. against Iran.

The U.S. has issued Iraq a 45-day waiver from U.S. sanctions on Iran for natural gas and electricity imports, the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad announced last week.

Iraq, which is struggling with electricity outages and insufficient power generation, is reliant on its neighbor for natural gas imports for its power stations.

The second wave of renewed U.S. sanctions on OPEC's third largest exporter officially started Nov. 5, targeting Iran's energy, shipbuilding, shipping and financial sectors.

The Donald Trump administration also granted China, Greece, India, Turkey, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan a 180-day waiver for Iranian oil imports.

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