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Iraq's president meets Saudi king after visiting rival Iran

In this photo provided by the Saudi Press Agency, Saudi King Salman, right, walks with Iraqi President Barham Salih, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Nov. 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Saudi Press Agency)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Saudi Arabia's King Salman received Iraq's president in Riyadh on Sunday, a day after the Iraqi official visited the kingdom's rival, Iran.

Barham Salih's back-to-back visits to Iran and Saudi Arabia reflect the delicate balance Iraq seeks to maintain in a region where its two powerful neighbors are battling for supremacy.

Salih was received at the airport in Riyadh by the province's governor and other Saudi officials. King Salman held a lunch in honor of the Iraqi president with ministers and high-level princes in attendance.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency released few details about Salih's talks with the monarch.

On Saturday, Salih was in Tehran where he pledged to improve trade ties less than two weeks after the U.S restored oil sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear accord.

Iran has had major influence over Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein, and is a key supplier of electricity, gas and goods to Iraqi markets. The two countries on Saturday vowed to expand trade to $20 billion a year, from $8.5 billion in 2018, despite the punishing U.S. sanctions against Iran.

Iraq is Iran's second-largest market after China, buying everything from food and machinery to electricity and natural gas.

But Saudi Arabia has been steadily courting Iraq in recent years, following a quarter-century estrangement brought about by Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia's oil minister was in Baghdad to discuss stabilizing oil prices in the wake of the latest U.S. sanctions against Iran.

A flurry of meetings between Saudi officials and the new Iraqi government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi Riyadh in recent weeks suggest the Gulf kingdom is aiming to counter Iran's economic footprint in Iraq.

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