Iran will soon repatriate about 480 Iraqi prisoners from the 1980-88 war between the two countries, Iranian state television reported Thursday. Meanwhile, the country assured Iraq that rapprochement with Saudi Arabia holds no threat to Baghdad.
It quoted a spokesman for Iran's commission on prisoners of war as saying the Iraqi POWs would be released in the next few days under an agreement with the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The POWs will be turned over to ICRC and Iraqi officials at a border checkpoint in "a humanitarian move," the spokesman said quoted by CNN.
"Iran expects Iraq to show goodwill and take positive measures towards clearing up the situation of remaining Iranian prisoners and those missing in action," he added.
Iran News Agency (IRNA) quoted Iranian officials as saying Iraq is still holding some 3,000 Iranians.
Iran earlier this month repatriated 1,999 Iraqi prisoners under ICRC supervision but Baghdad says Tehran still holds 9,000 of its soldiers registered by the ICRC and some others not registered.
An ICRC official said after that release that more than 4,600 Iraqi POWs were unwilling to return home, CNN said.
The fate of the POWs remains an irritant in relations between Iran and Iraq nearly 12 years after the end of the war, which cost around a million lives.
IRAN: IRAQI FEARS ARE BASELESS
Iran's Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani on Friday dismissed Iraqi fears that his visit heralded a new Saudi-Iran axis, saying that any security accord signed by Tehran and Riyadh will not be directed against any country.
"The deep and sound friendship between Iran and Saudi Arabia reflects the need to establish a peace in the region, and it will not be directed at anyone," Shamkhani told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.
The Iraqi newspaper Babel expressed its fear Sunday that Shamkhani's visit to Riyadh could signal a new US-Iran-Saudi axis that would leave Iraq out in the cold.
But Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdel Aziz on Wednesday ruled out signing any kind of defense agreement with Iran in reaction to Iraqi charges that Riyadh and Tehran were forging a strategic alliance,
"Any direct cooperation with Iran to guarantee the protection of the Gulf is quite inadmissible," Prince Sultan said.
And Shamkhani told Al-Hayat it was "not necessary to sign accords for communal defense" between Tehran and the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), as cooperation already existed.
Last week the Saudi government, ahead of Shamkhani's three-day visit, tasked Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz with negotiating a bilateral security accord with Iran.
The accord will focus on the fight against drug trafficking, Prince Nayef said, while diplomatic sources in Riyadh said it was to be signed when the interior minister visits Tehran in May – (Several Sources)
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