Last updated: 8 September, 2013

Iranian foreign minister in Iraq for Syria talks on first overseas trip

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks on possible US-led strikes against Syria with Iraqi premier Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad Sunday, on his first overseas trip since being appointed.

Zarif’s one-day trip is also due to include a meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari, and comes as the White House presses for strikes against Iranian ally Damascus over an alleged chemical weapons attack last month.

“He will discuss the bilateral relationship, and what is happening in the region, especially Syria,” an Iranian diplomat told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said Zarif was meeting with Maliki and would later meet with Zebari, with the two foreign ministers due to hold a press conference on Sunday afternoon.

“This trip aims to bring closer our points of views and to discuss regional and bilateral issues,” Zarif told reporters before leaving Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“We and our brothers and sisters in Iraq definitely share the same concerns regarding a new conflict being waged in our region,” he added.

Iran, a staunch supporter of the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad, actively opposes plans by the US and France to launch a military strike against Damascus over its suspected use of chemical weapons in deadly attacks on August 21.

It also backs claims in Damascus that rebels, not the Assad regime, carried out the chemical attacks on Damascus suburbs, which killed hundreds of people.

Zarif was also quoted as saying that Iran was “more worried” by the developments in Syria than other regional countries were.

“The warmongering is happening in our neighbourhood, which is an important issue and has made my visit to Iraq necessary,” he said.

Zarif seized on US President Barack Obama’s failure to win support for military action against Syria from world leaders during the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg.

“This shows the US and pro-war groups are faced with definite isolation in their pursuit of using war and illegal means to push forward their own foreign policy agenda,” he said.

Tehran provides Damascus with material and intelligence support but denies accusations of arming the Assad regime to fight the conflict which began as a popular uprising in 2011 but has now evolved into a fully-fledged civil war that has claimed more than 110,000 lives.

Zarif was appointed foreign minister in President Hassan Rowhani’s cabinet in mid-August.

Iraq, meanwhile, has sought to publicly avoid taking sides in the civil war between Assad and rebels seeking his ouster, but the conflict has spilled over the border on several occasions.

Washington has repeatedly called on Iraq to stop flights allegedly carrying arms from Iran to the Syrian regime. Iraq insists Iran has reduced flights transporting arms to Syria but says Baghdad cannot stop them completely.