TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Iraq’s foreign minister arrived Saturday in Tehran for bilateral talks with senior Iranian officials on a two-day visit.
Fuad Hussein planned to meet his Iranian counterpart Muhammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani, in what marked his first visit to the Iranian capital.
Zarif visited Baghdad in mid-July, when he met with Hussein and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. It was Zarif’s first visit to Iraq since a U.S. airstrike in January martyred a top Iranian general, Qassim Soleimani, outside Baghdad’s international airport.
After Zarif’s trip, the Iraqi premier visited Iran in July.
Last year, Iran’s exports to Iraq amounted to nearly $9 billion, the official IRNA news agency reported on Tuesday. It said the two nations will discuss increasing the amount to $20 billion.
Before the current global pandemic, some 5 million Iranian pilgrims annually brought in nearly $5 billion visiting Iraq’s holy sites.
Iran has seen the worst outbreak in the region, with more than 443,000 confirmed cases and at least 25,300 deaths.
Media reports on Saturday said Iran canceled all its flights to Iraqi cities until the religious holiday of Arbaeen, due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak. The holiday marks the end of the forty days of mourning that follow annually on the martyrdom anniversary of the seventh-century Muslim leader Imam Hussein (AS), who was martyred at the Battle of Karbala during the tumultuous first century of Islam’s history.
The United States said on Thursday it had renewed a waiver for Iraq to import Iranian electricity, this time for 60 days.
The waiver will continue to exempt Iraq from U.S. sanctions reimposed on Iran, after President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic.
Washington has repeatedly extended the waiver for Baghdad to use crucial Iranian energy supplies for its struggling power grid, usually for periods of 90 or 120 days.
Gas imports from Iran generate as much as 45 percent of Iraq’s 14,000 megawatts of electricity
consumed daily. Iran transmits another 1,000 megawatts directly, making itself an indispensable energy source for its Arab neighbor.
Iraq and Iran share a 1,400-kilometer-long border. For their run-of-the-mill maintenance, Iraqis depend on Iranian companies for many things from food to machinery, electricity, natural gas, fruits and vegetables.
The United States has insisted that oil-rich Iraq, OPEC’s second-largest producer, move towards reducing dependency on Iran as a condition for its exemption for importing Iranian energy. However, Iraqi officials have said the country needs several years to achieve it.