Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhimi on Tuesday visited Iran and said relations between the two nations would have to be based on non-interference.
“The two countries are facing economic challenges and our people are dependent on us, and this service will not take place without co-operation between Iraq and Iran,” Mr Al Kadhimi said.
“The people of Iraq want good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of both countries.
“Iraq is a country that won’t allow any aggression or challenge to Iran from its territory.”
It was his first official trip abroad since taking office and he met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The official website of the office of the Iranian presidency released a photo of Mr Rouhani and Mr Al Kadhimi at a welcome ceremony in Tehran.
Both men were wearing face masks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
At home, Mr Al Kadhimi faces increasing pressure from Iran-aligned parties and paramilitary groups.
They depict him as siding with the US, because he has indicated he wants to curb the power of Tehran-backed militias and political groups.
In his first two months in office, Iraqi security forces carried out two raids against militias, but most of those arrested were later released.
The US praised the raids.
After his meeting with Mr Al Kadhimi, Mr Khamenei lauded the Iran-backed militias in Iraq, but said Tehran would not interfere in relations between Baghdad and the US, his official website said.
Mr Al Kadhimi postponed a visit to Saudi Arabia on Monday after King Salman was admitted to hospital for tests, but chose to continue the planned trip to Iran.
After their meeting, Mr Rouhani said the visit was “a turning point in relations between the two countries”.
“We remain ready to stand by the Iraqi nation and apply efforts for stability and security in Iraq and the region,” he said.
Mr Rouhani said Iran and Iraq hoped to increase trade between them to $20 billion (Dh73.45bn) a year.
The Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, met Mr Al Kadhimi in Baghdad on Sunday.
On his arrival, Mr Zarif paid a visit to the site where Iranian general Qassem Suleimani was killed, saying “Iran-Iraq relations will not be shaken” despite the general’s death.
Suleimani led Iran’s Quds Force, the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and was the architect of its regional military activities.
A team of Iraqi ministers travelled without Mr Al Kadhimi to Saudi Arabia, closing investment and education deals between the two nations and agreeing to assist one another in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
His advisers sought new avenues for economic co-operation and enhancing Iraq’s potential to be a regional mediator.
The US and Saudi Arabia accept Iraq playing the role of intermediary, said Hisham Daoud, Mr Al Kadhimi’s adviser.
“The Gulf and the Americans want Iraq to have its sovereignty and to them this means distance from Iran,” Mr Daoud said.
Iran, meanwhile, “wants Iraq to be a messenger, but this will not be acceptable to Iraq and to Al Kadhimi”, he said.
The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Fouad Hussein, emphasised Mr Al Kadhimi’s message of independent sovereignty.
Mr Hussein said he and Mr Zarif “stressed that we want balanced relations with all neighbouring countries, based on Iraqi interests, mutual interests and non-interference in internal affairs”.