Iran`s foreign minister meets top Iraqi clerics

Iran`s acting foreign minister courted top clerics in Najaf, the Iraqi religious heartland, the second day of a visit to Iraq aimed at boosting ties between the Shiite-majority neighbours.

Last Updated: Jan 06, 2011, 23:34 PM IST

Najaf: Iran`s acting foreign
minister courted top clerics in Najaf, the Iraqi religious
heartland, on Thursday, the second day of a visit to Iraq aimed at
boosting ties between the Shiite-majority neighbours.

"I came carrying a letter from the Iranian leadership
to the religious authorities in Najaf," Ali Akbar Salehi told
a news conference in the central Iraq Shiite shrine city.

"I had a good meeting with (Iraq`s top Shiite cleric)
Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and I also just finished a
meeting with Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Said al-Hakim," Salehi
said.

"And I will meet Grand Ayatollah Bashir al-Najafi,
and Grand Ayatollah Ishaq al-Fayad in order to give them the
message from the Islamic republic," he said, referring to
other senior Shiite clerics.

The message "said that the Islamic republic supports
the new Iraqi government, and will build relations with Iraq
based on non-intervention in its internal affairs, and
according to the interests between the two countries," Salehi
said.

"We support security, services and rebuilding in
Iraq, and we will stand by Iraq until it gets over this
distress," he added.

The United States has in the past accused Iran of
backing various militias within Iraq.

An April 2009 US diplomatic cable published in
November by whistleblower website WikiLeaks said the Iranian
Revolutionary Guards` elite Quds Force was "active in Iraq,
conducting traditional espionage and supporting violent
extremists as well as supporting both legitimate and malign
Iranian economic and cultural outreach."

Brigadier General Jeffrey Buchanan, the spokesman
for US forces in Iraq, told AFP last week that "at least
certain elements of Iran have had what I would call a
destructive relationship with what`s been going on in Iraq."

But he added, "Iran and Iraq share a tremendously
long border. It`s important for them to have a relationship.
Our hope is that it`s a constructive rather than a destructive
relationship."

Salehi, who arrived in Iraq on Wednesday and met
with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Foreign Minister
Hoshyar Zebari, did not indicate if he planned while in Najaf
to meet with radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who returned to
the city yesterday after four years of self-imposed exile
abroad.

PTI