In Iraq, Iranian Leader Receives Warm Welcome

The visit by Iran's foreign minister revives U.S. fears about closer ties between Iraq and Iran.

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By Larry Derfner, Mideast Watch

Ties between Iraq and Iran strengthened visibly as Iran's foreign minister met with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad. This points up an abiding fear in Washington, one that likely plays a role in President Barack Obama's call for U.S.-Iranian diplomacy: the possibility that, after the United States withdraws from Iraq, the Shiite-dominated government will draw closer to Shiite, fundamentalist Iran. Iraq Updates reports on the Baghdad meeting:

Iraqi President Jalal al-Talabani on Wednesday expressed his country's keenness to expand cooperation with Iran, particularly in the fields of economy and trade.

"During a meeting with the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, the two sides discussed the necessary mechanisms to boost mutual relations between Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran . . . ," according to a presidential statement received by Aswat al-Iraq news agency.

During that same meeting, Iran's foreign minister rejected the need for talks with the United States over the issue of Iraqi stability and security. The official Iran Daily reports:

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday there was no need for fresh talks with the United States on Iraq because of improved security in the country.

"We are happy to say that the (Iraqi) government is quite capable of making the country completely safe," Mottaki said, asked to comment on offers by US President Barack Obama's administration to hold talks with Iran."Based on this, there is no place for such talks under the current circumstances," he said.

Iran 's reformist ex-president chides Ahmadinejad

In advance of Iran's June elections, the country's leading reform candidate has begun taking aim at hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Former President Mohammed Khatami, who is challenging Ahmadinejad, criticized the incumbent for isolating the country. Quoting the Associated Press in Tehran, the pan-Arab newspaper Alsharq Alawsat reports:

Mohammad Khatami's Web site quotes him as saying the "current situation (in Iran) is not desirable."

Khatami warns that if it continues, the country's "social capital and international reputation will be damaged even more."

It was the first time he spoke about president since announcing his candidacy for the June elections last weekend. The reformist cleric is a serious challenge to Ahmadinejad.

However, the prominent Arab journalist Abdul Rahman al-Rashed writes in Asharq Alawsat that, for all of Khatami's good intentions, he cannot reform Iran even if he wins the elections:

Iran's political infrastructure is designed in a way that does not entitle an elected President like Khatami—who is affiliated with a large, popular, political trend, but is weak authoritatively—to run Iran's higher political policy in a way he deems appropriate. Evidence of this was seen in Khatami's last presidential term which was riddled with many setbacks to the point of humiliation by extremist parties within the regime. Things got bad to the degree that newspapers and magazines affiliated with Khatami were forced to close down, while candidates from his party were banned from participation, and his employees harassed until he departed the presidency, achieving nothing of what he promised his voters.

However, when it comes to a character like current Iranian president Ahmadinejad; he indeed belongs to the ruling regime and the Iranian revolutionary guards which today enjoys more power and influence then any other time in history, interfering in both domestic and foreign affairs. Moreover his is closer to the leader who yields the most power in Iran; supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Egyptian journalists fined for criticizing Mubarak

In Cairo, an appeals court has overturned the one-year prison sentences given to four Egyptian editors for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak; his son and likely successor, Gamal; and senior government officials. However, the court upheld the defendants' fines of approximately $3,600 each, leading them to seek further judicial appeals. Asharq Alawsat reports:

A lower court in Cairo in September 2007 sentenced the editors—all running a new generation of brash, tabloid-style newspapers—to a year in prison for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak, his son and high-level ministers.

The sentences were in response to libel suits brought by people with connections to the ruling party.

Those sentenced were Wael El-Ibrashi of the weekly Sawt Al-Umma; Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the daily Al-Dustour; Adel Hammouda, editor of Al-Fagr weekly; and Abdel Halim Qandil of the weekly Al-Karama. The four remained free pending their appeal.

In July 2006, the parliament passed a new press law that makes insulting public officials an offense punishable by prison time. Egyptian journalists say the law curtails freedom of expression.