TEHRAN -- Iranian Foreign
Minister Hussein Amir-Abdollahian left for Iraq Friday to participate in a regional summit, the ministry said.
Foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced the departure to the “meeting to support Iraq” in a short statement.
The Islamic Republic’s new President Ebrahim Raisi had also been invited to the Baghdad summit.
The Saturday meeting seeks to give Iraq a “unifying role” to tackle the crises shaking the region, according to sources close to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi.
“Even if we bring the foreign ministers together at one table, this could be considered a breakthrough to end the tensions between Iranians and the Persian Gulf Arabs,” an official close to Kadhemi said.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah II have said they will attend, as has French President Emmanuel Macron, the only official expected from outside the region.
Leaders from Saudi Arabia and Turkey have also been invited.
Iraq is seeking to establish itself as a mediator between Arab countries and Iran.
Baghdad has been brokering talks since April between regional heavyweights Riyadh and Tehran on mending ties severed in 2016.
Raisi, who took office last week, has said he sees “no obstacles” to restoring ties with Riyadh. He has made improving relations with regional countries one of his priorities.
A politician close to the prime minister said Iraq, which hosted the private meetings earlier this year between Saudi and Iranian officials, had received “positive signals” from Tehran and Persian Gulf states that they were ready for more direct discussions.
“The prospect of regional conflict, coupled with their perception of Washington as unreliable, have … prompted the Saudis and Emiratis to pursue a limited, tactical, bilateral de-escalation with Tehran,” the International Crisis Group think-tank said in a recent report.
Saudi-Iranian dialogue launched in April as global powers held negotiations on reviving their 2015 nuclear pact with Iran, which Riyadh and its allies opposed.
Three other regional sources said it was premature for a breakthrough, with an Iranian source
saying progress would likely hinge on the nuclear talks in Vienna. Parties involved in those negotiations have yet to say when they will resume.
“We have always welcomed improving ties with regional countries such as Saudi Arabia, and it is a priority of our President Raisi’s foreign policy. Whether this will happen in Iraq … I seriously doubt it,” said a senior Iranian official.
During a press encounter on Thursday, Iraqi President Barham Salih said the Saturday summit will focus on regional unity and cooperation in order to establish peace and security and expand economic relations between regional countries.
“As it is clear from the guests of this summit, we intend to become a bridge between the countries of the region in order to achieve collective goals,” he said.
Asked by Iran’s Nour News correspondent whether there is a connection between the summit and the expulsion of American forces from Iraq, Salih responded in the negative, but stressed that all U.S. troops will leave the Arab country by the end of the year.
“Some have assumed that the summit may be a platform for the continued presence of foreign troops in Iraq, but this is untrue, and according to what we have concluded in the negotiations with the White House, the U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the agreed-upon time,” he added.
In an interview with Russia Today published on Thursday, Iraq’s foreign minister said his country has demanded the withdrawal of 5,000 U.S. troops by the end of the year.
Hussein stressed that the situation in Iraq is different from that of Afghanistan, noting that there is no movement like the Taliban in Iraq and that the American forces in Iraq are few in number.
“Iraq has an important experience in fighting Daesh, the collapsed terrorist organization, and the easing of tensions in the region will lead to the easing the tension inside Iraq,” he added.
He also described Iraq’s relationship with Iran as strong and said the Baghdad summit intends to reduce regional tensions.