Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan pledged Friday to strengthen their relations, still clouded over a decade after the Iran-Iraq war ended.
In the first such high-level meeting for three years, Khatami and Ramadan -- Saddam Hussein's number two in Baghdad -- had "frank" talks on the whole range of unresolved issues, they said afterwards.
"We discussed all bilateral issues. We clarified all ambiguous points, and because we clarified them we have faith in a good future for everybody," said a spokesman for Khatami.
Ramadan was equally upbeat after the hour-long talks in Caracas, where the two men attended a summit of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) Wednesday and Thursday.
"It was cordial and frank. We discussed cooperation between the two countries and agreed to work jointly for the improvement of relations between the two countries," he told AFP.
Tehran and Baghdad upgraded their diplomatic relations, which were never broken off during the eight-year war from 1980-88, to the level of charge d'affaires in 1990.
But the process of normalization has since run aground on the issue of prisoners of war and armed opposition groups sheltered by both regimes.
The last Iran-Iraq meeting at such a level was between Khatami and Ramadan in late 1997 at an Islamic summit in Iran. Saddam Hussein has not left his country since the 1991 Gulf War.
An Iranian diplomat said the meeting was held at the initiative of the Iraqi official, adding that they were to discuss "any subject that interests both sides," as well as "regular bilateral issues."
Despite the warming relations between the two, Tehran is committed to supporting the UN sanctions against Iraq, Khatami's spokesman said.
"Iran and Iraq have the largest border in the region, and we can have good cooperation with each other. But naturally we respect international agreements," he told reporters.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez trumpeted the bilateral meeting as a chance to push for normalization in the region.
"I am at their service to help ... the full reactivation of relations between two fraternal people, two fraternal countries, which are also members of OPEC, and which are calling for a boost of reunification of the whole Arab-Islamic world," Chavez told reporters.
The thawing of Baghdad-Tehran relations is an ongoing process. The Iranian president launched an appeal for peace earlier this month on the 20th anniversary of the start of the Iran-Iraq war.
"Iran didn't want war then. Nor does it want it today," he said on September 21, following a rare meeting in New York between Iran's and Iraq's foreign ministers.
The two ministers, meeting in the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, discussed the possibility of "resuming contacts ... to resolve questions which have remained unresolved and to make progress towards normalization."
On Friday Khatami's spokesman underlined that Tehran welcomed the opportunity provided by the OPEC summit to discuss bilateral issues with Baghdad.
"We look forward to more cooperation in the future," he said, as Khatami prepared to leave Caracas for a trip to Cuba. – (AFP)
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)