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Sunday September 8, 2013 MYT 5:30:01 PM
Sunday September 8, 2013 MYT 5:31:05 PM
Iran's ambassador to the United Nations M. Javad Zarif rises from the desk after addressing a Security Council meeting on the situation in Iraq at the U.N. in New York on October 16, 2002. REUTERS/Ray Stubblebine
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iran's new foreign minister, Javad Zarif, visited Iraq on Sunday to discuss what he called the "dangerous situation" in Syria and the wider region.
After more than two years of civil war, U.S. President Barack Obama is trying to drum up support for limited strikes on Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack that Washington blames on the government of Bashar al-Assad.
Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has sought to maintain a neutral stance towards the conflict and has warned against any Western military intervention in Syria. Iran, Assad's main regional ally, also opposes a strike.
"Our negotiations in Baghdad will tackle bilateral issues and the dangerous situation and circumstances in the region," said Zarif after landing in Baghdad for his first official trip abroad since taking office.
He was received by his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari and was also expected to meet Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later in the day.
The Syrian conflict has widened a fault line between Islam's two main denominations, pitting mainly Sunni rebels, their Gulf Arab sponsors and some Western powers against Assad, whose Alawite sect derives from Shi'ism.
Iraq's own sectarian balance has come under growing strain from the events in Syria, which have given new momentum to Sunni Islamist insurgents who have been striking with a ferocity not seen in years.
Sunni and Shi'ite militants from Iraq have also crossed into Syria to fight on opposite sides of the conflict, complicating the government's official position of neutrality.
Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported the United States had intercepted a directive from a senior Iranian official instructing Shi'ite militants in Iraq to attack U.S. interests in Baghdad in the event of a strike.
Alireza Miryousefi, the spokesman for Iran's U.N. mission in New York, on Saturday denied the allegations and dismissed them as "baseless".
"One should remember that reliance on such intelligence reports from anonymous US officials will lead to another disaster similar to the Iraq tragedy," Miryousefi was quoted as saying by Press TV.
(Reporting by Raheem Salman and Yeganeh Torbati; Writing by Isabel Coles; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
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