EghtesadOnline: On the final leg of his trip to Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani met with Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Sistani, on Wednesday in the holy city of Najaf.
Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif and Presidential Chief of Staff Mahmoud Vaezi accompanied the president in the visit held at the house of the grand ayatollah, IRNA reported.
Ayatollah Sistani stressed that he would welcome any effort to help expand Iraq’s relations with its neighbors based on the interests of the nations, respect for national sovereignty and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs.
He also expressed gratitude to “friends of Iraq” for their role in defeating the self-styled Islamic State terrorist group that had once occupied large swaths of northwestern Iraq, according to Financial Tribune.
Earlier, upon their arrival in Najaf, Rouhani and his delegation paid a visit to the shrine of Imam Ali (PBUH), son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and a revered figure among Muslims.
He then met with a number of religious scholars in the city the same day.
Rouhani had set off on his three-day trip to Iraq on Monday, landing initially in Baghdad.
During his two-day stay in the Iraqi capital, he met with top authorities, including President Barham Salih, Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi and Speaker of the Council of Representatives Mohamed al-Halbousi.
He also held talks with other influential political, security and intellectual figures.
In Baghdad, he attended a joint business forum in which a number of memoranda of understanding on mutual cooperation were signed.
The president later traveled to Karbala on Tuesday where he visited the shrine of Imam Hussein (PBUH), the third Shia Imam and the mausoleum of Hazrat Abbas ibn Ali (PBUH), Imam Hussein’s half-brother.
Rouhani also met with Iraqi tribal and ethnic leaders in the city.
The trip was Rouhani’s first visit to the neighboring Iraq during his nearly six-year tenure and was of great political, economic and security significance.
Nevertheless, a major achievement of his trip is believed to be his meeting with Ayatollah Sistani, the most influential public figure in Iraq that has hardly admitted top political figures in recent years, even from Iraq itself.
Rouhani was the first high-ranking Iranian official to meet the grand ayatollah in over a decade which, according to many analysts, would enhance his political status and improve the position of his government both at national and international levels.
Given the enormous popularity of Ayatollah Sistani among the Iraqis, the meeting could also pave the way for closer relations with Baghdad—an important partner of the country.