Iraqi premier starts talks in Iran

April 22, 2012 - 3:16 PM
Mideast Iran Iraq

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, center, shakes hands with Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi during his official arrival ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, April 22, 2012. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iraq's prime minister traveled to Tehran Sunday for top level talks, underlining the close ties between governments of the two countries.

Nouri al-Maliki met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the beginning of his two-day official visit.

Ahmadinejad praised al-Maliki, saying the Iraqi prime minister is working for reconstruction and progress in his war-battered country.

"If Tehran and Baghdad are powerful, then there will be no place for the presence of enemies of nations in this region, including the U.S. and the Zionist regime," the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as telling al-Maliki.

Al-Maliki's Shiite-dominated government has received support from Iran, a regional Shiite powerhouse.

A news website, tabnak.ir, said al-Maliki's visit to Tehran is an attempt by the Iraqi prime minister to show that Iraq has strong regional allies.

Al-Maliki is also expected to meet Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei during his visit.

Among topics for discussion is Iran's nuclear program. Iraq will host the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers in Baghdad May 23. The U.S. and its allies suspect that Iran intends to produce nuclear weapons. Iran denies that, insisting that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Al-Maliki was given a red carpet welcome by First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi at Saadabad Palace in north Tehran, state TV reported.