TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran on Wednesday for talks expected to focus on bilateral relations and overcoming “terrorism challenges” in his war-torn nation.
It was the Iraqi premier’s second visit to Tehran in less than a year.
Iraq, which like Iran is majority Shiite Muslim, has managed a difficult balancing act between Tehran and Washington since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, trying to maintain good relations with its powerful neighbor while not angering Americans.
The U.S. has accused Iran of providing money and weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq. Tehran denies the charges and argues that the presence of U.S. troops is destabilizing the region.
Iran and the U.S. have held three rounds of talks on Iraqi security since May, and al-Maliki said he would push for these talks to continue at an ambassador level.
State television said he was received in Tehran by First Vice-President Parviz Davoodi and would hold talks with other Iranian leaders during his visit, expected to last three days.
“We are here today to boost commercial and security relations with neighboring countries against the terrorism challenges in the area,” al-Maliki told The Associated Press on the plane to Iran.
The premier, who is a Shiite and is deemed a close ally of Iran’s Shiite regime, said he would also discuss and sign a number of cooperation memorandums with Tehran. He did not elaborate.
In an apparent gesture of welcome, Iran’s Payam state radio played Arab-style belly dancing music early Wednesday, a rare event in this conservative Islamic country.
Before arriving in Iran, al-Maliki traveled to Turkey and agreed to root out a Kurdish rebel group from northern Iraq. But the Iraqi premier said parliament would have the final say on efforts to halt the guerrillas’ cross-border attacks into Turkey. Iran also faces problems with its Kurdish minority near the Iraqi border.
Turkey has threatened to stage a military incursion into northern Iraq unless Iraq or the U.S. cracks down on rebels from the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. The envisaged counterterrorism agreement is aimed at forcing Iraq to officially commit itself to fighting the rebels.