Iran Urges Closer Defense Ties With Iraq

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By Thomas Erdbrink and Amit R. Paley
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, June 9, 2008

TEHRAN, June 8 -- Iranian officials advocated a close defense relationship with Iraq during meetings Sunday in Tehran with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his subordinates.

The talks came as Tehran grows increasingly concerned that a proposed long-term security agreement between the United States and Iraq would pose a threat to Iran.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najar said there were many possibilities for security and defense cooperation between Iran and Iraq, emphasizing what he called "the great strategic potential" of the two oil-rich countries.

"We believe that sustainable Iran-Iraq defense cooperation will play a positive role in promoting long-term peace, security and stability in the Middle East," Najar said in a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart, Abdul-Qadir Muhammed Jasim.

"Iraq's ambition to build a strong military calls for further cooperation with Tehran, and for Baghdad to draw on its neighbor's defense potential," Jasim said.

With a U.N. mandate authorizing the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq due to expire at the end of the year, the Bush administration has proposed a long-term security agreement that would allow American troops to remain in Iraq.

Iranian politicians and religious figures have criticized the agreement. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric and political opponent of the current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said the pact is meant "to turn the Iraqis into American slaves."

The most contentious aspects of the agreement have centered on the presence of U.S. bases in Iraq, immunity for American soldiers and civilian contractors and whether U.S. troops have the authority to detain Iraqis, according to Iraqi and Western officials.

Iranian authorities, who have repeatedly called for a U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq, have not openly criticized the military aspects of the agreement, but Iranian analysts and Iraqi officials said Maliki's visit was meant to ease concerns about those specific issues.

"Iraq will not be used as a military launch pad," Maliki said during a meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, according to Iranian news media. "Baghdad would not allow its soil to be used as a base to damage the security of the neighboring countries, including Iran."

But some Iranian analysts said they do not expect Maliki's remarks to change the Iranian position.

Ahmad Zeidabadi, a journalist for the Tehran-based magazine Shahrvand-e Emrooz (Today's Citizen), said Iran is trying to sabotage the U.S.-Iraqi agreement. "The Iranian authorities want this pact not to be signed and to fail to prevent Iraq from turning into a fortress for anti-Iranian forces."

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