Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is in Iraq for trade talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. His trip comes one week after King Abdullah of Jordan became the first Arab head of state to visit Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut that the Lebanese are placing high hopes on the visit.
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Wednesday became the second top Arab leader to visit Baghdad, following the recent lead of Jordan's King Abdullah. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki met Mr. Siniora in person at Baghdad Airport, before both men drove into the city behind a large motorcycle escort.
The Beirut media gave top billing to the Siniora visit, amid hopes from some commentators that Iraq would agree to sell subsidized oil to Lebanon, as it has long done with Jordan.
Both Prime Minister Siniora and Prime Minister Maliki avoided giving specific details about what they had agreed upon, but Mr. Siniora painted a broad tableau of improving political and economic relations with Iraq.
He says that Iraq and Lebanon have agreed to "implement a broad program of action and cooperation in various sectors, including tourism, and economic relations, and across a range of fields from investments, oil trade, and the development of the oil industry."
Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki spoke enthusiastically about improving economic relations between Lebanon and Iraq, putting special emphasis on encouraging Lebanese investment in his country.
He insists that both sides have agreed to put together teams to work out a set of agreement in the areas of trade, oil and oil services that will be concluded soon." He also stressed that Iraq welcomes its Lebanese brethren from various economic fields and companies, as well as Lebanese investors, amid a framework of security and laws to protect investments.
Iraq was once Lebanon's top trade partner, before prolonged periods of tension between both countries damaged economic ties. Lebanon has maintained an embassy in Baghdad throughout the period following the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and a number of Lebanese nationals were kidnapped and killed during that time.
Dr. Ibrahim Saif of the Carnegie Center for Peace in the Middle East thinks that improved relations with Iraq will bring many benefits for Lebanon.
"So getting cheap oil, or a subsidized oil will definitely help boosting the Lebanese economy, which is now picking up fairly after the Doha agreement, and also after the growing tourism during this summer, here in Lebanon and, as far as trade, there are so many commodities that Lebanon, especially in the food industry and some pharmaceutical products, that Lebanon can again penetrate and export to the Iraqi market, yet due to security and lack of any coordination it is not happening or taking place," he said.
The United States has been urging Sunni-ruled Arab states to strengthen ties with Iraq and ease the country's regional isolation. Other Sunni Arab leaders have avoided Iraq due to security fears and concerns that Iraq's Shi'ite-led government is too friendly with Iran, a largely Shi'ite state.