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Iranian president meets Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric

March 13, 2019
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In this handout photo from the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, second left, meets with Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, left, accompanied by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second right, in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, Wednesday, March, 13, 2019. Al-Sistani rarely meets officials and Rouhani is likely to score points at home over the meeting. (Office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, via AP)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s official IRNA news agency says President Hassan Rouhani has met with Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric — the first such meeting for an Iranian leader.

The report says Rouhani met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani on the third and last day of his official visit to Iraq. Wednesday’s meeting took place at al-Sistani’s base in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf.

Former hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not meet with Iranian-born cleric al-Sistani during his 2008 visit to Iraq.

Al-Sistani rarely meets officials. He received the U.N. envoy to Iraq, Jan Kubis, last November.

Rouhani is likely to score points at home over the meeting. He is under increasing pressure by hard-liners and struggling with an economic crisis that has emboldened critics to openly call for his ouster.

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