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Maliki says Iraq secure for expanded U.N. role
UNITED NATIONS |
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki met ministers from world powers and neighboring countries on Saturday after telling the U.N. Secretary General he could guarantee security for a broader U.N. role in Iraq.
Ministers from Iraq, its neighbors and world powers met at U.N. headquarters, with Washington expected to press for implementation of a Security Council resolution passed last month on raising the role of the world body in Iraq.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon told the meeting peace could not be obtained through military means alone and regional cooperation was vital to reinforce Iraqi efforts at reconciliation and "avoid exacerbating tensions."
The meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly brought U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice together with her Iranian counterpart, Manouchehr Mottaki, at a time of tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Washington also accuses Iran of backing militants in Iraq.
Diplomats said Mottaki has called on U.S. authorities to release several Iranians detained in Iraq who Tehran says are diplomats but who Washington says were helping insurgents.
At U.S. and British urging, the Security Council last month voted to assign the United Nations an expanded political role in Iraq, including promoting reconciliation between rival factions and dialogue with neighboring countries.
"The security situation has improved a lot in Baghdad," Maliki told reporters after meeting earlier with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. "We are going to be able to provide security to the U.N. in a way that will allow it to perform its role in an effective manner," he said.
Many U.N. officials are deeply concerned about sending more staff to Iraq, remembering a bomb that destroyed its office in Baghdad in August 2003 and killed 22 people, including mission chief Sergio Vieira de Mello.
The U.N. Staff Union wants Ban not to deploy more people in Iraq and withdraw those there now.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Paris was in favor of expanding the U.N. role but he recalled the bombing of 2003. "The Iraqi government and Coalition authorities are responsible for achieving ... progress that allows the international community to act effectively in the service of the Iraqi people," he told the meeting.
Saturday's meeting, co-chaired by Maliki and Ban, included members of the Security Council, Iraq's neighbors, members of the Group of Eight leading industrial nations and representatives of regional and international organizations.
U.S. President George W. Bush boosted American troop levels this year to try to stabilize Baghdad and create a climate for political reconciliation between Iraq's Shi'ite and Sunni populations. But the Iraqi government has failed to meet several benchmarks for political reconciliation.
Bush recently backed a recommendation by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, to withdraw 20,000 troops by next July from 169,000 now in Iraq.
U.S. and British officials deny their aim is to unload Iraq's political problems on the United Nations, then pull forces out. But they want the U.N. to take a shot at peacemaking, especially in recruiting help from neighboring nations.
Ban has already initiated a compact for Iraq that sets benchmarks for Baghdad in exchange for debt forgiveness.
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