August 20, 2008 / 11:56 AM / 11 years ago

Lebanese calls for Arabs to embrace Iraq

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora vowed on Wednesday to strengthen ties with Iraq, calling for it to be “reintegrated into the Arab world”, as he became the second Arab leader to visit since Saddam Hussein’s fall.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (L) speaks to the news during a joint news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad August 20, 2008. REUTERS/Ahmad Al-Rubaye/Pool

Siniora arrived in Baghdad for talks with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki just nine days after a flying visit to Iraq by Jordan’s King Abdullah.

“The reintegration of Iraq into the Arab world is the principle objective that we should all work for,” Siniora told a joint news conference with Maliki in Baghdad after talks in the Iraqi capital.

Washington has been pressing Arab states to embrace the government in Baghdad, which has complained of being spurned by the rest of the Arab world.

Siniora and Maliki both said they were in discussions to boost bilateral trade ties, especially regarding Iraq supplying oil products to Lebanon.

“We discussed the details of how Lebanon could cooperate with Iraq in the oil sector ... and on oil investment, including (Lebanese) investment in (Iraqi) oil fields,” Siniora said.

He was accompanied by Lebanon’s finance and foreign affairs ministers and other top government officials.

Maliki said both countries would seek to thrash out concrete agreements on trade and oil soon. He invited Lebanese investors to help reconstruct Iraq.

No Arab country has had an ambassador permanently stationed in Baghdad since Egypt’s envoy was kidnapped and killed in 2005, although several have named ambassadors this year who have yet to arrive.

By contrast, non-Arab Iran has long had a full embassy and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad made a high profile trip in March.

Lebanon shares Iraq’s experience of seeking to end sectarian conflict by forming a government that balances the interests of competing communities.

Siniora, a politician from Lebanon’s Sunni community who has Saudi support, heads a new Lebanese national unity government which includes the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah.

The date of Siniora’s visit was announced days in advance, a contrast with that of the Jordanian king, which for security reasons was not announced until he had already left Iraq.

Last month senior Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri met Maliki in Baghdad.

Additional reporting by Peter Graff, Tim Cocks and Khalid al-Ansary; Writing by Tim Cocks; editing by Sami Aboudi

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