Iranian president meets Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani holds a press conference with his Iraqi President Barham Salih at Salam Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 11, 2019. Rouhani was in Baghdad on Monday, making his first official visit to the nation that Tehran once fought a bloody war against and later backed in the battle with the Islamic State group. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani waves to journalists before his meeting with his Iraqi counterpart Barham Salih at Salam Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 11, 2019. Rouhani is visiting Iraq, seeking to boost ties between the two neighboring states and possibly secure Iraq’s help in bypassing U.S. sanctions the Trump administration re-imposed last year. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, center, walks with Iraqi President Barham Salih, before their meeting at Salam Palace in Baghdad, Iraq, Monday, March 11, 2019. Rouhani is visiting Iraq, seeking to boost ties between the two neighboring states and possibly secure Iraq’s help in bypassing U.S. sanctions the Trump administration re-imposed last year. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)

TEHRAN, Iran — 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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