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Page last updated at 15:19 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 16:19 UK

US presence blamed for Iraq woes

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
The Iraqi PM dispensed with his usual necktie to meet the supreme leader

Iran's supreme leader has told the visiting prime minister of Iraq that the root cause of his country's woes is the presence of US troops there.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has been trying to reassure Iran about a proposed security pact between Baghdad and the US.

An agreement could lead to the setting up of permanent US bases in Iraq.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was reported by Iranian media as saying that America's dream in Iraq "will not come true".

Iraqi officials say a pact is needed with the US military after its UN mandate runs out on 31 December to ensure there is no security vacuum.

Intense pressure

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran says that, according to Iranian media reports, Ayatollah Khamenei had a blunt message for his Iraqi guest.

"The occupation forces, who have employed all their military and security power to interfere in Iraq's internal affairs, are now the main obstacle in the way of the Iraqi government and nation," he reportedly told Mr Maliki.

No doubt the Americans' dreams will not come true
Ayatollah Khamenei
The comments leave the Iraqi prime minister in an awkward position, our correspondent says, torn between his alliances with the US and Iran.

Mr Maliki is under intense pressure from Washington to sign a deal bound to be unpopular with many people in Iraq and across the region.

"We believe that the Iraqi nation through unity and perseverance will overcome hardships and attain their desired status," Ayatollah Khamenei said.

"No doubt the Americans' dreams will not come true."

It is Mr Maliki's second visit to Iran this year, the apparent aim being to dampen Tehran's criticism of US plans as well as domestic objections.

US soldiers in Baghdad
The future role of US troops is a key concern for Iran

Media reports quoting Iraqi negotiators say the US is seeking to keep 50 permanent bases in Iraq - a suggestion denied by Washington.

On Sunday, Mr Maliki tried to reassure Iranian leaders that it had nothing to fear from the Iraqi side of the border.

"We will not allow Iraq to become a platform for harming the security of Iran and neighbours," he was quoted as saying.

Iraqi security officials had also been expected to raise the issue of Iran's alleged covert support for radical Shia militias which have battled the US-backed government.

The US has not ruled out a pre-emptive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, which Washington fears could be used to developed atomic weapons - though Iran denies this.

Observers noted that Mr Maliki dispensed with his customary collar-and-tie for the meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei on the third day of his visit.

A buttoned shirt and no tie is the uniform for male supporters of the Islamic revolution in Iran - while ties are viewed as a sign of Western imperialism.



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