Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, thanked the UN and conference delegates for their commitment, calling it a "defining moment in our history".

 

He said: "I believe that dovetailing the international efforts in order achieve our aspirations is a positive message."

 

Debt relief

 

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, said: "A number of countries have made concrete commitments under the compact today. In particular there was broad support for the terms of the Paris Club on Iraq's outstanding debt."

 

He said the figure of $30 billion included commitments by Bulgaria, China, Saudi Arabia, Greece and new commitments by Britain, Australia, Spain, Denmark and South Korea.

 

In 2004, the Paris Club, a group of 19 creditor governments from major industrialised nations dealing with debt restructuring, agreed to cancel $32bn (80 per cent) of the $40bn they were owed by the government of Saddam Hussein, Iraq's deposed ruler.

 

US-Syria talks

 

The British foreign secretary met her Iranian
counterpart at the conference [AFP]
Foreign ministers from more than 50 countries attended the conference, and various meetings were held on the sidelines.

 

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said she called on Syria to take action to stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq in talks with Syria's foreign minister - the first high-level meeting in two years between the two countries.

 

Rice described her half hour of talks with Syria's Walid Moallem as "professional" and "businesslike".

 

But a substantive meeting between US officials and Iran appears less certain - though Rice is reported to have sat at the same table as the Iranian foreign minister at lunch.

 

The Iraqi government had been pressing for Rice and Manouchehr Mottaki to hold talks during the gathering, saying Washington's conflict with Tehran is only fuelling the instability in Iraq.

 

Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, did meet Mottaki on Thursday.

 

In a brief statement, Beckett said: "We had useful discussions which culminated simply in mutual recognition that there is scope for a better relationship between Iran and the United Kingdom."

 

Foreign ministers from five of the six nations involved in talks on North Korea's nuclear programme were also expected to meet in Egypt this week on the sidelines of the conference.

 

A South Korean foreign ministry official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said: "There have been preparations for a separate five-nation meeting but the schedule has yet to be fixed."