Ahmadinejad to visit Baghdad March 2

February 16, 2008

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will make a landmark visit to Baghdad on March 2 for talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other officials, Iraq said on Thursday.

Ahmadinejad’s visit will be the first to Iraq by the president of the Islamic Republic, which is at loggerheads with the United States over the causes of violence in Iraq as well as Tehran’s nuclear program.
Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim country, and Iraq fought an eight-year war in the 1980s.
Ties have improved since Sunni Arab strongman Saddam Hussein was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and a Shiite Islamist-led government came to power in Baghdad.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Ahmadinejad would visit Iraq for two days.
“It’s significant in the sense that Iraq wants to have good relations with Iran,” Dabbagh told Reuters. Both Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and Maliki have visited Iran.
Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, told the official IRNA news agency the trip would take place on March 2.
The announcement of the date for Ahmadinejad’s visit came hours after Iraqi officials said Iran had postponed talks with the United States on improving security in Iraq. Those talks had been scheduled to take place in Baghdad on Friday.
“This was supposed to take place on this week’s Friday, but based on latest evaluation and because of technical issues, these negotiations have been postponed but we are still firm on holding them,” Kazemi-Qomi told IRNA.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he did not know why the Iranians had postponed Friday’s meeting, but he said this had happened before. “We are still open to it, we will look for other dates in the future,” he said.
----------- Upset Washington?
The White House on Thursday voiced support for good relations between Iraq and Iran after word that Iran’s president would visit Baghdad next month.
Some analysts have said the visit would irk Washington, but the White House on Thursday voiced support for the trip.
“We want Iran and Iraq to have good relations,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said in a statement.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States did not see Ahmadinejad’s visit to Iraq as a provocative gesture but he hoped their message would be positive.
“We would look for Iran to play a positive role in Iraq’s present as well as its future. I know that in the past, Iraqi officials have talked to the Iranian government about playing a more positive role,” McCormack told reporters.
Asked whether the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, would be prepared to meet Ahmadinejad during his visit to Baghdad, McCormack said, “I would not foresee that.”
A Tehran-based Iranian analyst said the visit would be a setback to Washington’s efforts to isolate Iran.
“(The visit) will go against American propaganda against Iran,” said the analyst, who declined to be identified.
“(The Americans) are saying Iraqi leaders are not happy with Iranian interference and provocation inside Iraq. This visit will show Iraqi leaders are not really concerned with an Iranian threat ... They are not opposing the Iranian position.”
Iraq’s government has said it does not want to be caught in the middle of any Washington/Tehran dispute