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Iraqi, Syrian FMs Discuss Combating Militants

FILE - Iraq Minister of Foreign Affairs Ibrahim Al-Jaafari speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting on Iraq at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 19, 2014.

The foreign ministers of Syria and Iraq met in Damascus on Tuesday to discuss ways to tackle militant groups and Syria said it hoped Baghdad would help “break the siege” against it, Syrian state media said, ahead of an Arab summit.

The Shi'ite Muslim-led government in Baghdad, together with Iran and the Lebanese group Hezbollah, has been an important ally for President Bashar al-Assad. Shi'ite Iraqi militias have fought on Assad's side against the insurgency spearheaded by Sunni Islamists.

Iraqi armed forces are also the main partner on the ground for a U.S.-led coalition bombing Islamic State militants in Iraq, but Washington and its Western allies have dismissed the idea of cooperating directly with Syria in the same fight.

Tuesday's discussions “focused on the fight against terrorism and common dangers that threaten our countries,” Syrian state television said, citing a joint news conference by the foreign ministers at Damascus airport. It did not specify which groups the discussions were referring to.

Meeting with Assad

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who also met Assad, is one of the most senior foreign officials to visit Syria recently. His country has acted as a go-between for information about the U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State militants in both countries.

“I have great confidence that Dr. Ibrahim and our brotherly leaders in Iraq will not spare any effort to break the siege which was imposed upon Syria,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said, appearing to refer to his country's international isolation.

Jaafari's visit comes ahead of an Arab League meeting in Egypt this weekend. Syria's seat has been vacant since its membership was suspended in November 2011 after the government's crackdown on protests.

In September Iraq's national security adviser briefed Assad on efforts to counter Islamic State, in the first such meeting since the United States launched air strikes on the group, which holds territory in both Iraq and Syria.

Assad said last month that third parties including Iraq were conveying information to Damascus about the U.S.-led campaign of air strikes against Islamic State in Syria, where the conflict has now entered its fifth year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month that his country would have to negotiate with Assad for a political transition in Syria and was exploring ways with other countries to pressure him into agreeing to talks.

But the State Department later edged away from the comments, saying that Washington would never negotiate with Assad.

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