TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's supreme leader urged the Iraqi president on Tuesday to seek a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, saying the American presence harms the country.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who is paying a three-day visit to Iran, a country the United States accuses of meddling in Iraq but that is closely allied to Iraq's new Shiite and Kurd-dominated leadership.
"The government and people of Iraq can with their voices seek a timetable for the exit of the occupiers," Khamenei told Talabani, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "Certainly, in the end the Americans and British will be forced by bitter experience to leave Iraq."
Leaders from Iraq's divided Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities agreed in a conference in Cairo this week to call for a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal, but gave no specific timeframe and tied it the training of Iraqi forces to carry on the fight against Sunni-led insurgents. The interior minister said this week he expected Iraqi forces to be capable of taking over security duties by the end of next year.
Khamenei denounced what he called U.S. attempts to hurt warming Iranian-Iraqi ties with "lies and slander" and urged Iraqis to resist American pressure on them to reduce relations with its neighbor.
"Iraq and its neighbors will always be present in the region, while the U.S. presence is temporary," he said.
The Shiite Arab parties that dominate Iraq's government have been close allies of mostly Shiite Iran's Islamic government since many of their leaders fled into exile there during Saddam Hussein's rule. Kurdish parties also built ties with Iran during that time.
On Monday, Talabani held talks with Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who proclaimed the two countries have "one soul in two bodies."
Ahmadinejad said the United States, which has nearly 160,000 troops in Iraq in support of the government, wanted to block better ties between the Shiite Muslim-dominated nations.