Iraq conference opens in Egypt

Prime minister appeals for Middle Eastern leaders to do more to end violence.

    Al-Maliki, left, has warned neighbours that violence in his country could spill over into theirs [AFP]

    Foreign ministers from more than 50 countries are attending the meeting, along with Ban Ki-moon, the secretary-general of the United Nations.

    Munzir Baig, Muscat, Oman

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    Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, called for countries to support the International Compact with Iraq, a five-year plan to stabilise Iraq.

    "We consider this conference in Sharm el-Sheikh to be an international show of support for Iraq, and the main aim of the  International Compact is to rebuild a unified, democratic and  federal Iraq and to distribute its wealth fairly," he said in his opening remarks to the conference.
    Hours after the conference began al-Maliki had already received promises of extra financial aid from several countries.
    Egypt said that it would forgive $800 in Iraqi debt while Margaret Beckett, the British foreign minister, said that the UK would donate an extra $200m towards Iraq's reconstruction programme.
    Iran-US meeting
    The issue of Iraq's security has been partially overshadowed by the possibility US and Iranian envoys having informal talks on the sidelines of the main conference.
    On Thursday Rice and Manouchehr Mottaki, the Iranian foreign minister, exchanged pleasantries over lunch - an informal meeting that is one of the highest level contact between the two countries for several years.
    However a US spokesman said that the two had not discussed any weighty issues.
    "They said hello. It was not about substance," US state department spokesman Sean McCormack said afterwards.

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, had previously said that Tehran would welcome talks with the US on the sidelines of the conference, the official Islamic Republic news agency reported.
    The conference is the first time in years that delegates from the US and Iran will be at the same table, and Rice has not ruled out a meeting with her Iranian or Syrian counterparts.


    Rice's aides have also said that she will meet Walid Muallem, the Syrian foreign minister, on the sidelines of the conference. 

    SOURCE: Agencies


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