Iraqi leader arrives in Iran
( AP ) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki arrived in Iran on Wednesday for talks expected to focus on bilateral relations and improving the security situation in his wartorn nation.
It was the Iraqi premier's second visit to Tehran in less than one year.
State television said he was received by First Vice-President Parviz Davoodi and would hold talks with other Iranian leaders during his visit to Tehran, expected to last three days.
"We are here today to boost commercial and security relations with neighboring countries," al-Maliki told The Associated Press on the plane to Iran. He said he would focus on overcoming "terrorism challenges" in the region.
The Shiite Muslim premier, 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 an incursion into northern Iraq unless Iraq or the U.S. cracks down on separatist Kurdish rebels. The envisaged counterterrorism agreement is aimed at forcing Iraq to officially commit itself to fighting the rebels.
Iraq, which like Iran is majority Shiite, 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 the Americans.
The U.S. has accused Iran of providing money and weapons to Shiite militias in Iraq. Iran denies the charges and argues that the presence of U.S. troops is destabilizing the region.
The two nations have held three rounds of talks on Iraqi security since May, and al-Maliki told AP he would push for these talks to continue at an ambassador level.