Iraq to seek Arab engagement at Kuwait meeting

Iraq will press Arab nations later his month to stop "sitting on the fence" and post ambassadors to Baghdad, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Sunday.

Iraq to seek Arab engagement at Kuwait meeting
There is virtually no senior representative from any Arab country in Baghdad. Visits by top Arab officials are also rare.

"There will be a request ... for the Arab countries to re-establish their embassies and their diplomatic missions here, to reach out to Iraq," Zebari said in an interview.

He said he would ask Arab nations to engage more with Baghdad at a regional ministerial meeting on Iraq to be held in Kuwait on April 22.

"It's no good complaining about the expanded Iranian influence here, or criticising the situation or being uncomfortable with the political process and so on and at the same time sitting on the fence."

The United States has urged Sunni Arab states to beef up embassies in Baghdad as a sign of support for the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

The Kuwait meeting will be a follow-on from gatherings of Iraq's neighbours as well as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council that were held in Turkey and Egypt last year.

The aim is to build international support for the Iraqi government as well as improve security and border controls.

Reluctance to extend legitimacy US occupation

Zebari said the decision by Arab states to only have low-level ties with Baghdad was political, stemming from a reluctance to extend legitimacy to the U.S.-backed government.

"On the one hand many of them are friends with the United States, but on the other hand they are very critical of what's happening here, the presence of foreign troops. They question Iraqi independence and sovereignty," Zebari said.

"But I think recently there has been greater awareness by them that they must move. What we are asking is for them to have a more effective presence, not only ambassadors. We are talking about ministerial visits, delegations, parliamentarians."

Many Arab diplomats have stayed away from Baghdad since a suicide car bomber attacked the Jordanian embassy in August 2003, killing 17 people. Militants have killed several other Arab diplomats in recent years.

In a sign Arab states were coming around, Zebari said he had been invited for the first time to a meeting of foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egypt, Jordan and the United States. Those talks will be held in Bahrain on April 21, the day before the Kuwait meeting.

The council comprises Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Saudi Arabia promised last year to open an embassy in Baghdad but has so far not opened it.

Zebari said there had been a number of other pledges.

Crocker and the U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, will visit Saudi Arabia in the coming days.
Last Mod: 14 Nisan 2008, 17:37
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