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Zarif In Baghdad Says Iran Will Defend Itself, While Iraqi Leaders Warn Of Escalation

President Barham Salih talked with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Baghdad, Saturday, May 25, 2019.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday May 26 that Tehran would strongly defend itself against any military or economic aggression and called on European states to do more to preserve a nuclear agreement his country signed with them.

Speaking in a news conference in Baghdad with his Iraqi counterpart Mohammed al-Hakim, Zarif said his country wanted to build balanced relations with its Gulf Arab neighbors and that it had proposed signing a non-aggression pact with them.

Iran has been in bitter rivalry with Saudi Arabia for several years and its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his allies often attack the legitimacy of Saudi rulers. The two countries are also indirectly waging war in Yemen.

Iraq stands with Iran and is willing to act as an intermediary between its neighbor and the United States, Hakim said, adding that Baghdad does not believe an "economic blockade" is fruitful, a reference to U.S. sanctions. Nevertheless, Iraq seems to be largely abiding by U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

Iraq has repeatedly offered its mediation between the U.S. and Iran in the past few days.

Iraqi leaders have also warned of the risks of war during a visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, whose country is locked in a tense standoff with the United States.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi warned of the "danger of a war" during a meeting with Zarif on Saturday night, his office said.

Abdel Mahdi pleaded for the "stability of the region and the upholding of the nuclear deal," it said, referring to a 2015 agreement between Tehran and major powers.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh discussed with Zarif "the need to prevent all war or escalation," his office said.

Reporting by Reuters and AFP