Iran president, Pakistan PM vow to boost economic, security cooperation

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Iranian and Pakistani leaders vowed to strengthen economic and security cooperation in a meeting on Monday, as the two countries seek to smooth over a diplomatic rift.

Their meeting was part of efforts by Islamabad and Tehran to mend ties which had been briefly strained in January when each carried out strikes in the other’s territory, targeting militants accused of attacking their own security forces.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif spoke to reporters after meeting at Sharif’s office, hours after Raisi arrived in Islamabad for a three-day visit.

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Authorities have deployed hundreds of additional police and paramilitary forces to ensure security during the visit.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant violence in recent months, mostly blamed on Pakistani Taliban and insurgents targeting security forces in Pakistan and neighboring Iran.

Sharif welcomed Raisi with an honor guard ceremony in front of the premier’s office. According to a statement released by the premier’s office, the two leaders discussed a range of bilateral issues and vowed to cooperate to fight terrorism, as well as jointly reiterating condemnations of Israel’s war in Gaza.

Sharif praised Iran’s “strong stand on the issue of Palestine” and said “Pakistan is also with the Palestinians.”

In his televised remarks, Raisi said that the killings by Israel in Gaza were being committed with the support of the United States and other Western countries. He criticized the international organizations, including the United Nations, saying “they say they support human rights, but they proved that they are inefficient.”

He also vowed to boost what he called “unacceptably” meager bilateral trade and called for setting up more border markers. Pakistan and Iran set up the first such border market in southwestern Pakistan’s Balochistan province last year, promising to set up five more such markets under a 2012 agreement.

The two leaders also signed eight cooperation agreements, according to Sharif’s office.

Authorities said the two sides also discussed the multi-billion gas pipeline project, on hold since 2014. The project — opposed by Washington for what it says is a violation of sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program — launched in 2013 to supply Iranian natural gas to energy-starved Pakistan.

Iran says it has already completed the pipeline on its side of the border after investing $2 billion. Pakistan was supposed to finish construction on its territory by the end of 2014, but work stalled, leading to tensions between the two nations.

The Iranian president is set to meet with his Pakistani counterpart Asil Ali Zardari who helped launch the pipeline project after travelling to Iran in 2013.

He also met with Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar. The two discussed regional and global developments and “affirmed commitment to peace and constructive dialogue for resolving regional challenges.”

Raisi is accompanied by his spouse and a high-level delegation. He plans to visit Karachi, the country’s biggest city, and Lahore, where he will meet with the country’s recently elected first female chief minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

The visit comes after Iran’s airstrike into Israel, which was in response to an Israeli strike in Syria that had killed two Iranian generals in a consular building. Pakistan is among the countries that has no diplomatic relations with Israel because of the issue of Palestinian statehood.

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