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EghtesadOnline: F oreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif on Monday briefed senior clerics in the holy city of Qom on current developments and the achievements of President Hassan Rouhani’s first trip to neighboring Iraq since becoming president in 2013.

Political analysts say the three-day visit, which took place earlier this month, signaled to Washington that the religious, cultural and economic bonds that tie the two countries will not be undermined by a focused US effort to isolate Tehran. 

Despite the fact that Baghdad is under pressure from the US administration to limit its relations with Tehran, Rouhani and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced agreements to boost trade, establish a rail link between the two countries and take steps to remove travel restrictions for tourists and investors.

Iran and Iraq fought a devastating eight-year war in the 1980s, but their relations shifted drastically with the American-led overthrow of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003. The Islamic Republic is now one of oil-rich Iraq’s main trading partners and has close ties with many of its political actors, Financial Tribune reported.

The president held a number of high-level meetings in Iraq and was granted a rare audience by the country’s most respected religious authority, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, in the holy city of Najaf. 

The top Iraqi cleric later said in a statement that he welcomes “any steps to strengthen Iraq’s relations with its neighbors … based on respect for the sovereignty of the countries and non-interference in domestic affairs.” 

Zarif on Monday held talks with Hojjatoleslam Javad Shahrestani, Ayatollah Sistani’s representative in Qom, during which they discussed Rouhani’s visit to Iraq and issues facing the Muslim world, the Foreign Ministry’s website reported. 

The chief diplomat also met with grand ayatollahs Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani, Hossein Nouri-Hamedani, Hossein Vahid Khorasani and Abdollah Javadi-Amoli to discuss domestic, regional and international affairs. 

The senior clerics called for further steps to expand Iran’s relations with neighboring and Muslim countries.

 

 

FATF Issue 

In comments to reporters, Zarif dismissed speculations that he was in Qom to rally support for the adoption of the legislation regarding international anti-money laundering and terrorism financing conventions, which has long been demanded by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, ISNA reported. 

“My trip to Qom … has nothing to do with the FATF issue. The two bills related to FATF are being discussed at the Expediency Council, and the council’s members will make a decision on the matter based on the country’s interests,” he said, adding that the main purpose of his visit was to present reports on the president’s “very successful and important” trip to Iraq and Iran’s latest diplomatic efforts. 

The administration of President Hassan Rouhani and his supporters in parliament have been trying to secure the adoption of four bills to bring Iran into compliance with FATF regulations.

Two of the bills have been approved, but the process has been slowed by those who oppose such legislation, arguing that it could hamper Tehran’s financial support for allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which America lists as a terrorist organization.

If Iran fails to comply with FATF requirements by the extended deadline of June, the global watchdog can blacklist the country, severely restricting its ability to have banking relations with the rest of the world.

 

Close Interference Qom Top Under pressure