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Palestinian's Abbas Seeks Better Ties in Iraq Visit

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is visiting Iraq, the first visit by a Palestinian leader since the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. Abbas met with President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in talks aimed at improving ties.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with Iraq's president and prime minister in Baghdad, during the first visit by a Palestinian leader since the toppling of Saddam Hussein by US-led forces in 2003.

Smiling and looking cheerful, Mr. Abbas was welcomed with an embrace from President Jalal Talabani at Baghdad Airport.

Improving ties with Iraq's Shi'ite-led government has been a priority for Mr. Abbas, who is seeking to ease the troubles of a large Palestinian diaspora in Iraq, many of whom are stranded in camps along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

President Abbas indicated he discussed the issue with Iraqi President Talabani.

He says he expressed the concerns of the Palestinian side to President Talabani, including the issues of Palestinian unity and reconciliation ... and we are seeing what role Iraq can play to help restore that unity, since without unity, there can be no progress ...

President Talabani responded to Mr. Abbas' concerns, by noting that the Iraqi people have always sympathized with the Palestinians and their plight.

He says the Iraqi people, over the years and under different governments, and despite the long era of dictatorship, have always had warm feelings for the Palestinian people, and he hopes that Iraq can play a role in helping them attain their goal of an independent state.

Mr. Talabani's press advisor, Nasir al A'ani told al-Iraqia TV the Palestinian president came with a very small entourage and that he discussed the issue of opening a Palestinian embassy in Baghdad, as well as the plight of Palestinians living in Iraq.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh indicated, the conditions of Palestinians stranded in refugee camps had improved. "The Iraqi government has dealt with and overcome this issue," he told the Associated Press. "It is no more a problem."

Al-Arabiya TV showed footage of hundreds of Iraqis living in tent camps, looking malnourished and coping with poor sanitary conditions.

During the regime of former President Saddam Hussein, 34,000 mostly sunni-Muslim Palestinians reportedly lived in Iraq. That number has dwindled to under 15,000 after several years of sectarian violence.