Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh said here Tuesday that Baghdad hoped to double its trade with Syria, its neighbor and longtime rival. "Our objective is to increase our imports from Syria and to bring commercial exchanges between our two countries up to one billion dollars," Saleh said.
Trade between Syria and Iraq is currently worth $450 million a year.
Saleh, whose country has been under sanctions since 1990, was in Syria to preside over the first Iraqi-Syrian joint economic commission in 20 years and to promote cooperation "respecting international law," he said.
Since 1996 Iraq has been allowed to sell limited amounts of oil in exchange for medical supplies and other necessities, but Saleh said the UN program "only covers some of Iraq's needs." Baghdad broke off relations with Syria in 1980 to protest Damascus' support for Iran in its eight-year war with Iraq. The two countries, governed by rival branches of the Baath party, started to normalize relations in 1997, opening their border to businesspeople.
In 1998, the two countries signed an agreement to reopen an oil pipeline closed since 1982 linking the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk with the Mediterranean port of Banias. Saleh also expressed satisfaction Tuesday in Damascus over the agreement to open the first rail link between the two countries since 1981.
Iraq opened an interests section in Damascus in March.
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )