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Ukraine rejects Iraqi offer to mediate talks with Russia

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq on Monday offered to mediate between Ukraine and Russia to try and find an end to the war in Europe, but Ukraine’s top diplomat rejected the offer during a rare visit to Baghdad.

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reiterated his country’s position that it would not engage in any peace talks unless Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory.

The Kremlin wants Kyiv to acknowledge Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea, which Moscow took over in 2014, and to also recognize September’s annexation of the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia. Ukraine has rejected those demands and insists it won’t hold talks with Russia until Moscow’s troops pull back from all occupied territories.

In Iraq, Kuleba met with his Iraqi counterpart, Fuad Hussein. It was the first visit by a Ukrainian official to Baghdad since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 and the first visit by a Ukrainian foreign minister in 11 years.

Hussein pointed to Iraq’s years of experience with war and conflict, as well as with hosting negotiations between hostile parties — such as the recent Saudi-Iran talks.

Baghdad had hosted several rounds of the talks between Riyadh and Tehran before the negotiations broke down. They later resumed with China as mediator, resulting in last month’s announcement that the two regional rivals would restore diplomatic relations.

Baghdad “has experience in communication with countries that have tension between them” and “is ready to be in service of peace,” Hussein said in a press conference Monday. “The continuation of the war will be dangerous not only to the two countries but to the world.”

Iraq, like much of the Middle East, historically relies heavily on grain imported from Ukraine, and consumers have suffered from rising food prices since the beginning of the war.

Kuleba said that while Ukraine sees “Iraq as a country that is capable of building bridges… Russia is on the offensive … and this is the biggest hurdle on the way to peace.”

“We need Russia to agree with a very simple fact that it has to stop the war and withdraw,” Kuleba added.

The current Iraqi government is seen as close to Iran, which the U.S. has accused of supplying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine. Iran has acknowledged sending drones to Russia but says it was before the war.

Iraq also maintains close ties with the United States, which has a strong influence over its financial sector. Iraq’s foreign currency reserves have been housed at the U.S. Federal Reserve since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

While rejecting Baghdad’s offer of mediation, Kuleba said Ukraine hopes to strengthen ties with Iraq and that his visit Monday was part of an effort to “reinvent Ukrainian-Iraqi relations.”

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Sewell reported from Beirut.