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Ahmadinejad set for historic Baghdad visit: Iraq

First ever visit by an Iranian president to Iraq

Iraq's government said on Thursday that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due in Baghdad on March 2 for the first visit ever by an Iranian president to the neighboring country.

"The Iranian president will be visiting for two days from March 2. He will be meeting with President Jalal Talabani and with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told AFP.

"He will be accompanied by a number of ministers."

Ahmadinejad's visit would be the first by an Iranian president to Iraq since the creation of the Islamic republic in 1979 when the shah was ousted in a revolution.

Iran and Iraq fought a devastating war between 1980 and 1988 in which around one million people died.

But the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime in 2003 led to a marked improvement in relations with the new Shiite-dominated government in Iraq.

President Jalal Talabani has been a frequent visitor to Tehran, his last trip coming in June. Prime Minister al-Maliki made his first official trip to Iran in September 2006 and followed it up with another visit last August.

Iran-U.S. talks postponed

The announcement comes as Iraqi and U.S. officials said on Thursday that Tehran had requested a postponement of talks which had been expected this week in Baghdad between the United States and Iran on the future of Iraq.

"The talks have been postponed. They are not cancelled. No reason was given," an Iraqi foreign ministry official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity and without elaborating.

The U.S. embassy in Baghdad confirmed that there had been a request for a delay in the talks.

"We have been saying for weeks that we are ready to sit down for talks. It is increasingly clear that Iran is not," an embassy official told AFP.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said this week the talks were expected "in the next few days."

"We have an interest in the success of these negotiations because it would lower tensions between Iraq and other countries and will help improve the situation in and around Iraq," Zebari said at a press conference in Moscow.

The meeting, which was initially scheduled for December 18, aimed to explore ways of reducing violence in Iraq.

In January, Iranian officials said they had "some concerns" about the next round of discussions but did not elaborate.

Washington, which broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran after the Islamic revolution, accuses Iran of sending weapons to Iraq and funding Iraqi Shiite extremist groups.

Iran denies any involvement in violence in Iraq and believes the withdrawal of U.S. troops is the first step toward a restoration of security in the country.