IRAQI FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER LANDED IN TEHRAN UNEXPECTEDLY

TEHRAN 9 Feb. (IPS) Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister Naji Sabri arrived unexpectedly in Tehran on Sunday afternoon and immediately met with his Iranian counterpart Kamal Kharrazi.

Nothing has transpired from the meeting, but political analysts noted that the unannounced visit by Mr. Sabri came amidst a bitter row in Tehran between Iranian ruling conservatives and reformists over the line to adopt concerning the ongoing Iraqi crisis, with many lawmakers, as well as the bulk of the population being strongly opposed any backing by the Iranian government for the Iraqi regime in its struggle against the United States.

Informed sources told Iran Press Service that it was because of this opposition that the Iranians did not announced the arrival of Mr. Sabri.

Also the Majles, the Iranian Parliament, which is dominated by the reformists who are generally favourable to the toppling of the Iraqi dictator by the Americans, is in break over the Eyd Fetr period, Muslimís most important feast that comes at the end of the great pilgrimage season to Mecca.

Some Iranian lawmakers threatened last month to seek Kharrazi's ouster if Sabri returned, saying his presence would jeopardize Iran's neutrality with a possible war imminent.

"The best way to protect our interests is with multifaceted diplomacy and (to) talk to all the parties to the conflict", Mr. Hasan Qashqavi, a member of the Majlesí National Security and Foreign Affairs Committee had observed.

Iran has aided groups seeking to topple Saddam, mostly the Iraqi Shiíites in the south and the Kurds in the north, but also has pledged to remain out of any U.S.-led military campaign.

On Friday, Iran's former president, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran fears expanding U.S. influence in the region more than Saddam's possible weapons of mass destruction.

Political observers said that Sabri's visit to Tehran was to take place earlier, but it was delayed on decision from President Mohammad Khatami, informing lawmakers that Baghdad had not responded to Iranian conditions.

He cited Iraqís full and official pledge to the 1975 Algiers Agreement, payment of war damages to Iran and the return of all Iranian prisoners at the hands of the Iraqis.

Saddam Hoseyn had torn apart in front of television cameras the Agreement which he had signed in the Algerian capital with the late Shah of Iran, fixing, among other things, the Iran-Iraq border lines in the Shat al Arab river on the Thalweg line. He then ordered his troops to invade Iran, setting off a war that lasted eight years, killed a million of people on both sides and ruined hundreds of Iranian villages and towns.

The official news agency IRNA said about the Sabri visit that it takes place following the recent visit by the Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister to London, where he met with the British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Americanís staunchest ally for attacking Iraq, as well as EU Commissioner of External Relations Chris Patten's visit to the Islamic Republic.

"They believe that the Iraqi minister's visit is an indication of Tehran's important role in political equations of the region as well as its "active" diplomacy in the crises", IRNA added.

Sabri visited Tehran twice last year, most recently in September when he appealed to Iran to oppose U.S. military action. ENDS SABRI IN TEHRAN 9203