BAGHDAD – The first Egyptian foreign minister to visit Iraq in nearly two decades met with Iraqi leaders Sunday to discuss plans to open a new embassy in Baghdad and cooperate in the oil sector.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said the visit was aimed at helping Iraq face its "many challenges."
"We reject sectarianism, extremism, violence," Aboul-Gheit said. "And we hope that peace and security will prevail in Iraq."
The Iraqi government welcomed Egypt's plans to open a new embassy in Baghdad. Cairo currently has diplomats based in the U.S.-protected Green Zone.
"This visit will open good horizons for the bilateral relations and soon we will witness the opening of the Egyptian embassy in Baghdad. Today, we went to see some sites to be used as a place for the embassy," Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said.
The high-level visit reflected decreasing tension between Iraq's Shiite-led government and mainly Sunni Arab countries in the region.
Jordan named a new ambassador to Iraq over the summer. The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain also promised to reopen their embassies in Baghdad.
Aboul-Gheit said security concerns were to blame for Egypt's delay in opening an embassy after an Egyptian diplomat was killed in Baghdad in 2005. Al Qaeda in Iraq later said it killed Ihab al-Sherif because Egypt intended to install a full ambassador in Iraq
"Egypt has lost a good citizen in Iraqi land. This has kept us a little bit away on the official level," he said at a joint news conference with Zebari.
Zebari hailed the visit as a chance to restore the two countries' historic ties.
"It is an important visit that will yield positive results," Zebari said after he and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met with Aboul-Gheit in Baghdad. "It shows Egypt's interest in communicating with Iraq and boosting the historical relations between the two countries."
The Egyptian minister also said that oil ministers from both countries met in Baghdad on Sunday and the two countries plan to "to boost cooperation and coordination in the oil sector." He gave no other details.
He also said Egypt could help Iraq in the construction sector.
It was the first visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to Iraq since 1990, when Saddam Hussein's invasion of neighboring Kuwait deeply damaged ties between Iraq and its Arab neighbors.
Since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, there have been sporadic efforts to revive them, but these were hampered by the violence and the suspicion of Iraq's mainly Sunni Arab neighbors to the Shiite ascendancy in Iraq.