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Iraq and Iran to meet to draw border: Mottaki

by Staff Writers
Baghdad (AFP) Jan 7, 2010
Iraq and Iran will begin talks next week to mark their borders, both countries said on Thursday, weeks after Tehran took over a disputed oil well in a move Iraq's prime minister called "unjustified."

Nuri al-Maliki's criticism of the Iranian move came during talks between him and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, during the latter's one-day visit to Baghdad.

"There will be a meeting within a week between the two countries about the borders," Mottaki said at a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari at the foreign ministry in central Baghdad.

He added that in the following weeks, meetings would be held between technical committees from the two countries to determine the land and maritime borders separating the neighbours.

Mottaki's visit follows a spat between Baghdad and Tehran over Iranian forces' takeover of an oil well along the contested 1,458-kilometre (910-mile) frontier.

On December 18, Iraq's state-owned South Oil Co said that about a dozen Iranian troops and technicians had arrived at the field, taken control of Well 4 and raised the Iranian flag. They withdrew days later.

Mottaki's conciliatory remarks -- he described the border as one of "friendship and love and peace" -- contrasted sharply with Maliki's comments that Iraq was "astonished by the unjustified step."

"Any measures or decisions taken by only one side will not help to maintain security and stability," he said, according to a statement released by his office.

Mottaki led a delegation of around 10 officials, an AFP journalist said, on his first visit to Iraq since September, and his talks were to focus on bilateral security co-operation and border issues.

"There are common interests between the two countries to fight terrorism and provide security," he told reporters at the news conference.

"This border, it is a border of friendship and love and peace, and a border of collaboration, where there is economic trade totalling five billion dollars every year."

The stand-off between Iraq and Iran over the oil well raised regional tensions and drove up international crude prices.

Well 4 is in the Fauqa Field, part of a cluster of oilfields Iraq unsuccessfully put up for auction to oil majors in June. The field has estimated reserves of 1.55 million barrels.

Though Iraqi officials said last month that Iranian forces remained on Iraqi territory after withdrawing from the field, Mottaki told reporters: "Some orders have been issued to the Iranian forces to return to their original places."

He said the oilfield offered an "opportunity for joint investment."

"The border forces of the two countries returned to their places and after the meetings of the technical committees... everything will revert back to normal."

The takeover was one of the most serious incidents between the two countries since the US-led invasion of 2003. Iraq fought a devastating 1980-1988 war with Iran.

Zebari told lawmakers last month that Iran has been violating Iraq's borders since 2006.

Tehran has often been accused by US military leaders, whose forces still have a large presence in Iraq, of funding and training Shiite militant groups and undermining security in the conflict-torn country.

Many leaders of Shiite parties who were exiled to Iran during the Saddam era are now in power in Baghdad.

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