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High-Level Meeting Aims To Expand UN's Iraq Presence

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (file photo) (AFP) UNITED NATIONS, September 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- At a United Nations-sponsored conference in New York, international leaders discussed how to increase international participation in Iraq.

Delegates also discussed how to help reduce violence and support Iraqis in efforts at dialogue and reconciliation.

The September 22 meeting brought the prime minister of Iraq, Nuri al-Maliki, together with high-level officials from Iraq's neighboring countries and world powers.

It was held in advance of this week's upcoming addresses by national leaders at the UN General Assembly. All of Iraq's Middle East neighbors, including Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and Turkey, were represented at the foreign minister level. The United States, Russia, Britain, China, France, and Japan also sent their foreign ministers.

'Positive And Encouraging'

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon described the gathering as "very positive" and "encouraging."

"There was a strong Iraqi support for an enhanced UN role within the framework of the new mandate in Security Council Resolution 1770. Broad areas for our future work in Iraq were outlined," Ban said.

The resolution, adopted in August, extended for one year the UN assistance mission in Iraq, and urged broader cooperation between the Iraqi authorities and UN bodies. In particular, the measure called on the UN to advise, support, and assist with Iraqi political dialogue and national reconciliation.

Prime Minister al-Maliki shared the UN secretary-general's positive assessment of the meeting.

"The meeting highlighted the positive developments in the Iraqi question. It also highlighted the challenges that we must face and the friends of democracy, the friends of security who all decided to support Iraq, in order to tackle the strata on behalf of international community," al-Maliki said.

Responding to questions at a press conference following the meeting, the UN secretary-general said the UN is well-placed to help Iraq, but cautioned that any expansion of the UN's presence would depend on security conditions.

"Neighboring states pledged their support for a stronger UN role in promoting regional cooperation. In this context, many speakers also stressed the need for strengthened border security," Ban said.

"There was a clear agreement that international community cannot turn away from or ignore Iraq. Its stability is our common concern."

Bomb Attack

The UN mission to Iraq was established in 2003, but it was largely curtailed after the mission's headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in August of that year, leaving 22 UN personnel dead. The mission currently operates on a limited scale, with 65 UN staffers in Baghdad and 30 in the city of Irbil, northern Iraq.

The Iraqi prime minister said a larger UN presence in Iraq would contribute to the process of national reconciliation.

"As for the economic, social and political situation in Iraq, everyone expressed their support for the Iraqi government, a government which is trying to carry out program of reforms -- economic, social and political reforms," al-Maliki said.

UN chief Ban pledged that a "modest" increase in the number of UN staff in Iraq would be made as soon as facilities are ready to safely accommodate them. He also said the UN is seriously considering establishing an outpost in Al-Basrah, southern Iraq, where currently there is no UN presence.

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