BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in New York on Monday and received an invitation from U.S. President Joe Biden to visit the White House soon, a State Department spokesperson said.
Sudani, who is in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, said a date for the official visit to Washington would be set at a later time, Iraqi state media reported.
Biden and Sudani have yet to meet since Sudani took office last year after being appointed by a coalition of parties, predominantly Shi’ite Muslim groups close to Tehran.
He has since walked a diplomatic tightrope between the United States and Iran, two countries that in the past have fought out their rivalry on Iraqi soil.
Sudani and Blinken “renewed their commitment to continue strengthening the partnership between the two countries,” the State Department spokesperson said.
Iraq has been a close partner of Washington since the U.S. 2003 invasion and both sides say they are trying to broaden their relationship from a near-singular focus on defence and counter-terrorism towards economic and financial cooperation.
Blinken during the meeting “underscored U.S. support” for the re-opening of a pipeline between Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdistan region and Turkey, the State Department said. The pipeline has been shut since March, costing the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) roughly $4 billion in lost exports, according to sources.
Turkey said last week the pipeline, which contributes about 0.5% of world oil supply, would be ready to resume operations soon, though it is unclear whether Baghdad and Ankara have agreed to the terms of a resumption of crude flows.
Blinken also “commended the Prime Minister’s commitment to judicial independence in Iraq’s recent conviction and sentencing of multiple individuals on terrorism charges in connection with the killing of U.S. citizen Stephen Troell,” according to the State Department readout.
An Iraqi court in August sentenced an Iranian man and four Iraqis – all members of a Shi’ite Muslim militia – to life in prison over Troell’s November 2022 killing in a middle class neighbourhood in central Baghdad.
U.S. officials have also praised increased cooperation between Washington and Baghdad on financial issues.
In New York Sudani met with Brian Nelson, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, to discuss ways to “strengthen the Iraqi financial sector against fraud, sanctions evasion, terrorist financing, and other illicit activities,” a Treasury statement said.
Nelson “acknowledged the significant progress Iraq has made in their efforts,” the statement said.
Last week, a senior U.S. Treasury official said Iraq’s central bank must address continued risks of the misuse of dollars at Iraqi commercial banks to avoid new punitive measures targeting the country’s financial sector.
In July, the United States barred 14 Iraqi banks from conducting dollar transactions as part of a wider crackdown on the illicit use of the currency.
With more than $100 billion in reserves held in the United States, Iraq is heavily reliant on Washington’s goodwill to ensure oil revenues and finances do not face U.S. censure.
(Reporting by Timour Azhari in Baghdad; additional reporting by Natalie GroverEditing by Andrew Heavens, Peter Graff and Tomasz Janowski)
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