Top officials from Iran and Iraq held talks on Thursday on ways to boost cooperation between the two neighboring countries, just one day after a surprise visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the Arab country, which was supposed to convince Baghdad to restrict its ties with Tehran.
Iranian Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh on Thursday met with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi, whose office said he "confirmed the deep relations between the two countries, the two neighboring peoples and the importance of strengthening them in areas that serve the interests of the two peoples, foremost of which is cooperation in the fields of oil and gas."
The Iraqi premier's office also said the Iranian oil minister "expressed his country's pride in the level of relations with Iraq and the aspiration to develop them, and hoped to achieve more cooperation and to meet the needs of Iraq's gas."
PM Abdul-Mahdi had earlier declared his country “will not be part of the [US] sanctions regime, as it will not be part of aggression against any country."
The Iranian minister also held talks with Iraqi President Barham Salih, who said promotion of ties between Tehran and Baghdad would serve the stability and security of the entire Middle East.
The talks were held after Pompeo's meeting with Abdul-Madhi on Wednesday, where the two discussed "US support for Iraq’s energy independence" from Iran among other issues.
The US official’s unannounced visit to Baghdad was part of his tour of the Middle East meant to promote the White House's hard-line position on Iran.
Pompeo's trip to Iraq, which followed a controversial visit by US President Donald Trump late last month, was notable in that Iran was not mentioned in any official readout.
However, he earlier referred to a "counter-Iran revolution" between the US and its Mideast allies during a Tuesday press conference in Jordan.
During a speech at his next stop in Cairo, the words "Iran" and "Iranian" were among his most frequently used, as he portrayed Tehran as a "common enemy" of the US and other countries in the region, The National reported.
In a speech at the American University in Cairo, Pompeo described the US as a “force for good” in the Middle East, and accused former US President Barack Obama of having sowed chaos by abandoning the Middle East.
The remarks, however, were scolded by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who said actually the opposite of Pompeo’s comments was true.
“Whenever/wherever US interferes, chaos, repression, and resentment follow,” Zarif tweeted on Thursday.
The talks between Tehran and Baghdad on expansion of energy ties came a few weeks after US Energy Secretary Rick Perry urged Iraq to sever its energy dependence on Iran and open its energy sector to American investment. He was in Baghdad with a trade delegation arranged by the US Chamber of Commerce.
However, in defiance of the US’ efforts, Iraq's oil minister announced on Thursday Iraq and Iran are jointly exploring two oil fields shared by the two countries.
Thamer Ghadhban said his country is honoring an existing exploration agreement with Iran.
The US granted Iraq a sanctions waiver until March to continue buying gas from Iran, after which Iraq could face punitive measures.
The Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Iran’s energy exports in November, but has granted waivers to several buyers provided that they reduce their liftings and find new sources.