Iraq's Kadhimi set for official visits to Saudi Arabia, Iran and US

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Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi will travel to Saudi Arabia and Iran back-to-back next week, carefully balancing ties to regional rivals in his first foreign trip as premier, officials said Saturday.

Baghdad has often found itself caught in the tug-of-war between Riyadh, Tehran and even Washington, which the premier is also set to visit within the next few weeks.

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On Sunday, Kadhimi will host Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in Baghdad, before traveling with Iraq's ministers of oil, electricity, planning and finance to Saudi Arabia the following day, Iraqi officials said.

They are set to stay in NEOM, an area in the kingdom's northwest that is currently under development, and are scheduled to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Kadhimi is known to have warm personal ties.

Baghdad proposed a package of energy-focused development opportunities in Iraq to Saudi Arabia earlier this month, and the talks will likely focus on financing for those proposals, other infrastructure projects, and a reopening of the Arar border crossing between the two countries, the officials said.

An aerial view shows a highway on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on May 24, 2020. (AFP)
An aerial view shows a highway on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr in the Saudi capital Riyadh, on May 24, 2020. (AFP)

They said the delegation would then travel directly to Tehran late Tuesday, where Kadhimi is expected to meet Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

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Kadhimi is well-liked in Washington, where he is expected later this month or in early August to pursue a strategic dialogue between Iraq and the US.

It would be the first visit by an Iraqi premier to the White House in three years. US officials never extended an invitation to previous prime minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, whom they saw as too close to Iran.

Tensions skyrocketed following a US drone strike on Baghdad in January that killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

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