In this photo released by Prime Minister Office, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, left, walks with Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif during a welcome ceremony in the prime minister house in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Prime Minister Office via AP) ASSOCIATED PRESS

In this photo released by Prime Minister Office, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, left, walks with Pakistan's Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif during a welcome ceremony in the prime minister house in Islamabad, Pakistan, Monday, April 22, 2024. (Prime Minister Office via AP) ASSOCIATED PRESS

AP:  The leaders of Iran and Pakistan agreed to strengthen economic and security cooperation in a meeting on Monday that sought to smooth over a diplomatic rift.

Ties were strained between the neighbors in January when each carried out strikes in the other’s territory, targeting militants accused of attacking security forces.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi met with Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and other officials on his three-day visit. Authorities deployed hundreds of additional police and paramilitary forces for security.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant violence in recent months, mostly blamed on Pakistani Taliban and insurgents targeting security forces in Pakistan and neighboring Iran.

According to a statement, the two leaders discussed a range of bilateral issues and vowed to cooperate to fight terrorism. They reiterated their condemnations of Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.

Sharif praised Iran’s “strong stand on the issue of Palestine” and said “Pakistan is also with the Palestinians.”

Raisi said the killings by Israel in Gaza were being committed with the support of the United States and other Western countries. He criticized international organizations, including the United Nations, saying, “They say they support human rights, but they proved that they are inefficient.”

The visit comes after Iran’s unprecedented direct strikes on Israel and an apparent Israeli response. Pakistan is among the countries that have no diplomatic relations with Israel because of the issue of Palestinian statehood.

Raisi also vowed to boost what he called “unacceptably” meager bilateral trade with Pakistan and called for setting up more border markets. Pakistan and Iran set up the first such border market in southwestern Pakistan's Baluchistan province last year, promising five more under a 2012 agreement.

The two leaders signed eight cooperation agreements, according to Sharif's office.

Authorities said the two sides also discussed a multi-billion gas pipeline project, on hold since 2014. The project — opposed by Washington as a violation of sanctions imposed on Tehran over its nuclear program — launched in 2013 to supply Iranian natural gas to energy-starved Pakistan.

Iran says it had already completed the pipeline on its side of the border after investing $2 billion. Pakistan was supposed to finish construction on its territory by the end of 2014 but work stalled, leading to tensions between the nations.

The Iranian president later met with his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, who helped launch the pipeline project after traveling to Iran in 2013.

On Monday night, Pakistan's powerful army chief Gen. Asim Munir met with the Iranian president, the military said in a statement. It said their discussion focused on "matters of mutual interest, notably regional peace, stability and border security.”

The statement said Munir described the Pakistan-Iran border as “the border of peace and friendship" but emphasized the need for improved coordination there “to prevent terrorists from jeopardizing the longstanding brotherly relations.”

It quoted Raisi as saying that by fostering cooperation between the militaries, Iran and Pakistan “can attain peace and stability for both nations and the region."

Raisi also met with Pakistan's Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar. The two discussed regional and global developments and “affirmed commitment to peace and constructive dialogue for resolving regional challenges."

Raisi is accompanied by his spouse and a high-level delegation. He plans to visit Karachi, Pakistan's biggest city, and Lahore, where he will meet with the country's recently elected first female chief minister, Maryam Nawaz Sharif.

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