Rice Pushes Arabs to Cut Debts, Begin Diplomacy; Sunnis Back off Talks to Rejoin the Cabinet

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Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

STOCKHOLM - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iraq's leaders will press Sunni Arabs today to cancel billions of dollars in Iraqi debt and reopen embassies in the war-torn country, which they promised a year ago but have yet to deliver.

"With the improved security situation [on the ground], it ought to be possible to make more progress on some of the pledges that were made for project and technical assistance," Miss Rice told reporters on her way to Stockholm.

As the world's top diplomats gathered here for a major international conference on Iraq, European officials pointed out that Baghdad has not lived up to its part of the bargain, either - to ensure Sunni participation in the Shi'ite-dominated government.

"Key is, of course, that the Sunni parts of society move more clearly to the governing structures," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said in an interview with the Associated Press.

As Mr. Bildt was speaking, Iraq's largest Sunni political bloc said it had suspended talks to rejoin Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki's Cabinet because of a dispute over ministry posts. The bloc pulled its members out of the government in August.

Mr. al-Maliki, who was met by Mr. Bildt upon arrival in the Swedish capital, tried to divert attention from the negotiating setback in Baghdad to the reluctance of Iraq's Sunni neighbors to lend economic support.

"The aim of this conference is to support Iraq," he told reporters before leaving Baghdad. "The task of building is more difficult than countering terrorism. We hope that other countries will forgive Iraqi debts."

In a separate statement, Mr. al-Maliki's office said he needs "support for Iraq's sovereignty, debt cancellation and settlement of war reparations following the adventures of the former regime" of Saddam Hussein.

No numbers were mentioned, but published estimates put Iraq's outstanding foreign debt at about $70 billion, most of which is owed to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. …