Iran backs Iraq stability, offers port services, oil pipeline, railway link

Iran said Sunday it supported Iraq's stability and called for expediting the construction of an oil pipeline and railway between the two neighbors, state-run television reported.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told visiting Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi, who is scheduled to meet U.S. officials in Washington next week, that Tehran supports Iraq's territorial integrity and believes a powerful government in Baghdad suits its interests.

The United States has accused Iran of not doing enough to stop militants entering Iraq to wage attacks inside the war-ravaged country. Iran, which is also under U.S. pressure over its nuclear program, denies the claims.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that establishing peace and security in Iraq requires having a powerful government with popular support more than anything else," the television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying Sunday.

"Protection of Iraq's territorial integrity, independence and might is of special significance to Iran," Ahmadinejad told Chalabi.

Chalabi's visit to Iran is seen as a boost for this Persian state, which has been the focus of international criticism after Ahmadinejad recently said that Israel should be "wiped off the map."

The president also said Iran was willing to offer its experience and expertise to rebuild Iraq and insisted on expediting work on setting up an oil pipeline between Iran's port city of Abadan and Basra, Iraq's second largest city.

Ahmadinejad also called for completing a railway project connecting both countries. He said Iraq could use Iranian ports as a transit route to export goods.

Chalabi's visit to Iran comes as the Iraqi politician pursues political rehabilitation in Washington after he was accused of passing classified intelligence to Iran before the toppling of Saddam Hussein by the U.S.-led military invasion in 2003.

Chalabi, once a U.S. favorite to replace Saddam, is also linked with ultimately unfounded claims by President George W. Bush and his top aides that Saddam had amassed hidden arsenals of weapons of mass destruction.

A former banker and graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Chalabi has been a controversial figure on several fronts, accused sometimes of being an Iranian agent. He last visited Iran in August 2004 to attend a trade conference in Tehran.

Iran admitted having "continuous and permanent dialogue with Chalabi" but rejected spying charges.

Relations have improved markedly between Shiite Muslim-majority Iran and Iraq following the 2003 toppling of Saddam, who led Iraqi forces into an eight war with Iran that ended in 1988 and killed more than 1 million people on both sides, AP reported. V.A.

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Author`s name: Editorial Team