Iran, Iraq to dredge Arvand, build railway in June

IRNA – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says dredging Iran-Iraq border river Arvand and establishing a railroad between the two countries will likely start in early June.

“In my visit to Iraq, we reached a very important agreement to dredge the Arvand River and that agreement was emphasized by both sides today as well,” Rouhani said during a joint press conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi in Tehran on Saturday.

The Iraqi premier is on a two-day official visit to Iran in a bid to cement growing bilateral relations between Baghdad and Tehran. This is his first visit to Iran since he took office last year. Abdul-Mahdi’s visit comes shortly after President Rouhani’s first state visit to the neighbouring country in March.

‘We hope that by the end of Ramadan all the technical plans will be devised and the dredging start in Arvand after this month,’ he said, referring to the Islamic calendar month when the muslims around the world fast. Ramadan finishes on June fifth.

The River Arvand, also known as Shatt al-Arab in Arabic, forms the natural border between Iran and Iraq.

However, it wasn’t dredged since the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein tore away the 1975 Algiers agreement and started a war on Iran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hailed the agreement on dredging Arvand as “a historic joint declaration between Iran and Iraq that removed another vestige of Saddam war”.

“Another important project is linking Iranian and Iraqi railways that we hope different parts are connected in the future,” added Rouhani after receiving Abdul-Mahdi in Tehran.

“So far, connecting Shalamcheh [in Iran] to Basra [in Iraq] is being emphasised by both sides that we hope operations start after Ramadan,” the Iranian president further said.

The Iranian president went on to touch on the energy export to Iraq, saying Iran plans to continue selling its electricity, gas and oil to Iraq.

‘We hope that good connections will be established not only between the two countries, but with other nations in the future as well,’ Rouhani added.

Iraq is in talks with the Administration of President Donald Trump to obtain a second waiver from the US sanctions on importing oil from Iran.

Washington’s unilateral sanctions have also choked international banking and financial ties with Iran. Tehran has been trying to establish trade in national currencies with several countries in the wake of Washington’s punitive measures. Tehran and Baghdad launched a non-dollar channel in a bid to ease trade.

‘Good steps have been taken for financial, monetary and banking ties between the two countries, and we hope that these steps are consolidated during a future visit to Iraq by Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI), [Abdulnaser Hemmati],’ said the Iranian president.

Rouhani also described bilateral trade volume as “very good”, saying “Our plan for the future is to reach a $20bn trade volume between the two countries and we hope that we reach this point in next months and years.”

“Iran and Iraq also agreed to set up joint industrial parks on their joint borders and today we agreed that we prioritise building an industrial park in the south, one in the west and another on the border with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region,” explained the Iranian president.

The two officials also emphasized working on standard for the Iranian and Iraqi goods as well as medicine and medical equipments, according to Rouhani, who expressed hope that Tehran and Baghdad soon approve organizations that will determine the standards.

Hassan Rouhani also said his country is prepared to enhance scientific relations with Iraq. “There is very sincere and close relation between Najaf and Qom seminaries and we hope relations between universities and research centres increase day by day,” he noted.

The Iranian president emphasised that Iranian and Iraqi officials share many common points on many issues such as al-Quds as the Palestinian capital, the Golan Heights as Syria’s inseparable part, political solution for Yemen as well as security and stability in the region.

Rouhani expressed the hope that bilateral ties between Iran and Iraq would strengthen in countering terrorism and fighting drug-trafficking on their borders.

“Sometimes we see some problems on our border with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and northwestern border that’s why we need to intensify efforts against terrorism, drugs and smuggling,” stressed the Iranian presidnet.