Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (left) and his Iraqi counterpart at the time, Mohamad Ali Alhakim, talk to the press after a meeting in Baghdad in March 2019. Photo: Haydar Karaalp / Anadolu / AFP

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif landed in Baghdad Sunday to make final preparations for the arrival of the Islamic republic’s president, Hassan Rouhani, who will make his first official visit to Iraq on Monday.

The US has been pressuring Baghdad to minimize its ties with its neighbor, especially since the Trump administration withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed sanctions on Tehran.

At a joint press conference Sunday with Iraq’s top diplomat Mohammed Ali al-Hakim, Zarif said they had held “very good discussions.”

Zarif thanked Baghdad for having “refused the unjust and illegal sanctions imposed on the Iranian people” in reference to the American measures.

Iraq was given limited waivers to continue buying electricity and natural gas from Iran, with Washington calling on it to partner with American companies to become energy independent.

Iran is the second-largest supplier of imported goods to Iraq after Turkey, and Zarif said his discussions with Hakim covered sectors such as trade and health.

Iran and Iraq plan to increase annual bilateral trade to $20 billion from the current level of $12 billion, according to Tehran officials. Most of the trade balance is tilted toward Iran with gas and energy exports.

During his visit, Rouhani is set to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi, President Barham Salih and the country’s chief Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

“Rouhani is coming to discuss… trade between the countries [and] the issue of easing trade exchanges in Iraqi local currency and finding other ways, like Germany and Britain, to adopt an alternative European currency to circumvent US sanctions,” Iraqi political analyst Hisham al-Hashemi told AFP.

“In addition, there are electricity, water and other files,” he added.

– with reporting by Agence France-Presse

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