Rice in Bahrain to press Arabs on Iraq embassies, debt relief

Other News Materials 21 April 2008 12:57 (UTC +04:00)

(dpa) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to pressure foreign ministers of nine Arab countries meeting in Bahrain Monday to open embassies in Baghdad and offer debt relief to Iraq.

Rice, who made a surprise visit to Baghdad Sunday, told reporters travelling with her that Iraq's neighbours "could do more to live up to their obligations because I do believe the Iraqis are beginning to live up to theirs."

Ministers from Gulf Arab countries, Egypt and Jordan meeting in Bahrain were expected to hear Washington warn them once again against a growing Iranian influence in Iraq; hence the need for strengthening the country's Arab identity.

The US has been pressing its Arab allies to open embassies in Baghdad. Saudi Arabia has been mulling the idea since last year but has so far failed to make a move.

Egypt, whose envoy to Iraq was abducted and killed in Baghdad in 2005, said Friday it would not open its embassy unless security improved.

Debt relief is expected to be raised by both Rice and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, both of whom will press Arab countries to write off their debts owed by Iraq.

Rice urged Arabs to "do debt relief" just as other creditors making up the so-called Paris Club did.

Paris Club members have written off the bulk of Iraqi debts of about 66.5 billion dollars, according to US State Department estimates.

The bulk of the remaining debt estimated to be between 56 billion and 80 billion dollars is owed to Gulf Arab countries, according to US government estimates.