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Premier Calls On World To Forgive Iraq's Debts

Al-Maliki in Sharm el-Sheikh today (AFP) May 3, 2007 -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called on all countries today to forgive his country's foreign debts on the opening day of a conference on Iraq.

In his speech opening a two-day conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, al-Maliki also pledged to institute reforms that the United States and other governments have repeatedly called for.

Iraq owes some $50 billion, while another $100 billion has already been written off by the Paris Club of lender nations.

Other topics to be discussed at the conference are ways to end the sectarian violence in Iraq, as well as a five-year plan offering Iraq financial and political support in return for reforms.

But international attention on the conference could be dominated by a possible meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki.

The United States has accused Iran of fomenting unrest in Iraq. Washington is also a leading critic of Iran's nuclear program, seeing it as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.

If Rice and Mottaki meet, it would be one of the highest-level encounters between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Senior Syrian officials will also be in Sharm el-Sheikh, and the U.S. State Department was not ruled out a meeting between them and Rice.

For more than two years, the U.S. has ruled out talks with Syria because Damascus has not met U.S. demands on Middle East issues.

(Reuters, AP)

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