BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraq is regaining its place in the region and is no longer seen as a US puppet, especially as it slips down the priority list in Washington, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said in an interview on Monday. A flurry of high-level diplomatic visitors from neighbours Iran, Kuwait and Syria will bolster the country's new-found credibility as a sovereign state, he told AFP at his ministry just inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. "I was asked recently about Iraq not being a top priority for the new administration (of President Barack Obama) ... I said this is good news if we are not a crisis situation, if we are not a top priority," he said, smiling. Zebari put Iraq 's newfound diplomatic confidence down to the security pact it signed with the United States in November, but also to Washington's focus on hot-button issues such as Afghanistan and the global economic crisis.But the countries remain at odds over key issues. "We have political problems, tensions, over our constitutional reforms, the (long-delayed) oil law, government performance," he said. For Baghdad, "these are part of the reconciliation" process in the war-battered country. Zebari, an Iraqi Kurd, also pointed to Baghdad's good ties with Tehran, the arch-foe of Washington ever since the 1979 Islamic revolution, as another example of Iraq 's ability to stand on its own two feet. "We have proven that no matter what the differences between the United States and a neighbouring country, we have our vested interests and can make our own decisions," he said in his office, adorned with a plush Persian carpet. Within the Arab world, he said, Iraq had also taken a stand last month by staying away from a meeting of leaders in Qatar meant to shore up support for Hamas over the Gaza crisis, and instead attended an economic summit in Kuwait. "It used to be that way," the foreign minister said, referring to the loss of diplomatic credibility after the US-led invasion of March 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein, stressing that Iraq 's neighbours were now taking it seriously. "The impression has completely changed, especially after this agreement with the US and the way we debated it, in parliament, in the media," in contrast to other countries where it would have been a state secret. "All this has sent the right signals... our continued engagement despite their negativism," he said, referring to the scepticism of nearby countries. Zebari pointed to the opening of several Arab embassies in Baghdad and to the expected stream of diplomatic visits, with economic issues high on the agenda. "Syria's prime minister and foreign minister are coming over soon," he said. "We are thinking of reopening our (oil) pipeline through Syria to the Mediterranean, that's a key issue." Zebari said Baghdad's often troubled ties with Damascus had "improved a great deal" following their opening of embassies in late 2006. "There are less infiltrators coming from the Syrian border. They haven't stopped but the Syrians have taken a number of measures, and secondly they felt that this will backfire on them." Turning to Tehran, he acknowledged Iran was influential in the new Iraq , where the Shia majority is dominant. "They have influence, I have to be honest ... But our attitude (now) is to deal with each other as two sovereign countries, through official channels," the minister said. "To say that they dictate to us, no, that is wrong," he said, citing Tehran's strong opposition to the security pact with Washington. "We told them this is a sovereign Iraqi decision," said Zebari, who has served as foreign minister since Iraq 's first post-invasion administration. "They took that as a sign, I think, of Iraq asserting more independence." With Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's visit last week " to be followed, said Zebari, by Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani " the two sides are placing their diplomatic ties on a new footing. "We are trying to formalise relations with them through embassies, through consulates, to have a protocol of dealing with each other," he said. Zebari contrasted the approach to the individual contacts dating back to the days of opposition to Saddam's regime when many of today's leaders of Iraq were exiled in Iran. Even Kuwait, with which Iraq has had troubled tied for decades, culminating in Saddam's 1990 invasion, is sending its deputy premier and foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammad Sabah al-Salim al-Sabah, to Baghdad for the first time. Joint oilfields, demarcation of borders and the billions of dollars in war reparation claims will be among the thorny issues on the agenda. "We have come a long, long way with them," Zebari said.