Saturday, 24 August, 2019

Iran’s FM Zarif arrives in Baghdad for trade talks

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, on Saturday, preparing for Monday’s visit by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, where a bilateral trade agreement is expected to be signed between the two neighboring countries.

Earlier on Saturday, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Iraj Masjedi, said the Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with Iraq aims at improving economic cooperation between the two countries.

“These MoUs will be about establishing railway between the border cities of Khorramshahr and Basra, building and developing joint industrial parks, travel visas, customs issues and health and medical cooperation,’ Masjedi said according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Iran’s border city, Khorramshahr, lies 40 kilometers from Basra in Iraq.

Masejdi added that their “bilateral trade has been seeing a $2.5 billion annual increase with oil and gas exports making the most part of it,” and that a “draft document of easing visa issuance for traders and businessmen and women from both countries is ready.”

According to IRNA, Iran’s current exports to Iraq stand at 13 billion dollars, and that Baghdad and Tehran seek to raise their annual trade volume up to $20 billion.

Rouhani is expected to meet with Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Sistani during his three day visit.

Iran is the second-largest source of imported goods in Iraq. Besides canned food and cars, Baghdad also buys 1,300 megawatts of electricity and 28 million cubic meters of natural gas daily from Iran to feed power plants.

After US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, Washington granted Baghdad a waiver until late March to keep buying Iranian gas and power.

However, Washington expects Iraq to wean itself off Iranian energy resources, to increase the pressure on Tehran’s economy.

The United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia, consider Iran the main cause for instability in the region, due to its involvement in Lebanon, Yemen and Syria as well as its nuclear program.

Iran’s ties with Iraq is therefore a cause for concern for the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia, because Tehran’s access to the neighboring country gives it a passage all the way to the Mediterranean, through its allies Syria and Lebanon.

Israel has waged a military campaign since 2017 to stop Iran from consolidating itself in Syria, carrying out hundreds of airstrikes on its military facilities in the war-torn country.

In a speech in at the United Nations General Assembly in September last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel will continue to defend itself against Iran, “wherever, whenever” it feels threatened, mentioning Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as places where the Jewish state is willing to attack Iranian targets.

Iran insist that its forces are in Syria with President Bashar al-Assad’s blessing,  and that Tehran will not give in to threats by Israel.

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