Iraqi PM's visit to Saudi Arabia postponed as King Salman is taken to hospital

The trip would have been Mustafa Al Kadhimi's first foreign visit after taking office in May

epa08540500 Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Kadhimi speaks to the media during his visit to Mandali border crossings between Iraq and Iran, in Mandali, Iraq 11 July 2020. Kadhimi has announced the government will take firmer control over border crossings in order to eliminate corruption and smuggling at the country’s borders.  EPA/THAIER AL-SUDANI / POOL

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi will not visit Saudi Arabia on Monday after King Salman was taken to hospital in Riyadh.

The Saudi ruler was admitted to a hospital in the capital for medical tests due to inflammation of the gallbladder, the kingdom’s royal court said on Monday, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

The 84-year-old monarch is being tested at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital, it said.

Mr Al Kadhimi's visit would have been his first foreign trip since becoming prime minister in May.

"The Kingdom appreciates the choice of the Iraqi Prime Minister to visit us as the first country after taking office," wrote Saudi foreign minister Faisal bin Farhan on Monday morning, adding that with "a desire to provide all means of success" both parties have chosen to delay the trip.

Mr Al Khadimi was planning to travel to Saudi Arabia on Monday with his ministers of oil, electricity, planning and finance, according to the Agence France-Presse.

The group were to stay in Neom, a mega city under construction in the kingdom's north-west.

Son of King Salman and Deputy Defence Minister Khaled bin Salman said on Twitter that Iraq “comprises an important strategic depth for the kingdom so it was natural for Riyadh to be the first stop on Mr Mustafa Al Kadhimi's schedule of visits”.  He said the trip had been postponed until after King Salman leaves hospital, to give the visit its “proper due” as a state visit.

"I wish @KingSalman a speedy recovery & look forward to seeing him at the earliest possible time, as we'll reschedule my visit soon," Mr Al Kadhimi wrote on Twitter.

"Iraq's relations with (Saudi) are strong & based on mutual strategic interests & brotherly ties. I'm optimistic about the potential & future of our ties," he added.

A small Iraqi delegation of Iraqi ministers arrived in Saudi Arabia on Sunday, headed by Finance Minister Ali Allawi, official Saudi media said.

Saudi trade minister Majid Al Qusaibi greeted the delegation at Riyadh airport. Among the delegation are the health, agriculture, oil and planning ministers. Iraqi Agriculture Minister Karim Al Khafaji said the visit was aimed at boosting “strategic co-operation between the two countries” and “open new horizons”, as well as “safeguarding common interests”.

Mr Al Kadhimi met Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Sunday, raising hopes the Iraqi leader could build balanced relations with Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Iraq seeks to assert its balanced and positive role in making peace and progress in the region,” Mr Al Kadhimi's office said after his meeting with Mr Zarif.

Mr Al Kadhimi's trip to Tehran, which had been planned to take place immediately after his Saudi visit, was still on, Iraqi officials confirmed.

He is expected to meet Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran on Tuesday.

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