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Rouhani leverages Sistani visit to maneuver on Iran's regional policy

Hassan Rouhani’s first state visit to Iraq as president has ushered in a series of important economic and political accords between the two countries — but his crowning achievement was his audience with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

Hassan Rouhani’s state visit to Iraq was a success for the Iranian president. In terms of political and economic cooperation, multiple memorandums of understanding were signed to facilitate commerce, investment, logistical connections as well as travel between the two neighbors. Additionally, an important joint declaration has spelled out mutual commitment to implementing the 1975 Algiers Agreement and related annexes, which deal with sensitive — and festering — issues such as border demarcation.

These are major strides for Rouhani. However, the crowning achievement was his unprecedented March 13 audience with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf — the first time that a sitting Iranian president has met with the top cleric. Sistani “welcomed any step to strengthen relations between Iraq and its neighbors as per mutual interests and on the basis of respecting the sovereignty of states and non-intervention in internal affairs." He also "expressed the necessity for balanced and moderate regional and international policies in this region to avoid further tragedies and damage." To understand the significance of this meeting, it is necessary to consider Sistani’s influence in Iran.

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