Iraq's new foreign minister prepared to address his EU colleagues yesterday to seek support for reconstruction two weeks after the US quietly handed over limited sovereignty to an interim regime in Baghdad.
"We expect ... the EU, as an organization or [as] individual members, to come to our assistance," Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a BBC radio program ahead of talks with EU foreign ministers.
"We are going to request economic assistance and aid directly to the Iraqi people, not through intermediaries."
Zebari was also expected to visit NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the alliance's offer to help train Iraq's armed forces and other possible assistance.
Foreign ministers from the 25 EU nations will consider proposals for helping train the Iraqi police, preparing elections and advising the Iraqi government on establishing its administrative agencies.
However, officials said plans for dispatching EU personnel depended on improved security in Iraq.
The EU has committed to spend US$371 million in humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Iraq this year.
Meanwhile, Iraq is preparing to appoint 43 ambassadors abroad as it reopens diplomatic ties, Zebari said in an interview on Saturday.
He asked countries in the region to show "mutual respect" by not getting involved in Iraq's internal affairs and by clamping down on any cross-border flow of foreign fighters or aid to forces that oppose the new regime. All of Iraq's neighbors currently are interfering "in many ways" in its internal affairs, Zebari said.
"The new Iraq will be responsible and conscious and mindful of your national security needs," Zebari told neighboring countries in the interview. "At the same time, we need you to respect Iraq's sovereignty and unity and internal affairs. This is to establish the rules of being good neighbors."
Also yesterday, France and Iraq restored diplomatic relations that were severed 13 years ago during the Gulf War and plan to exchange ambassadors as soon as possible, the French Foreign Ministry said in Paris.
"The two governments are convinced this decision will contribute to closer ties between France and Iraq and will intensify exchanges to the greater benefit of the two countries," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Iraq already has sent 250 diplomats to 19 countries, from Egypt to Japan, Zebari said. They were mostly chosen from the ranks of the old ministry, though many are young, meaning they were not "polluted" by the ways of the former ruling Baath Party, Zebari added.
The Foreign Ministry is also coordinating with the Interior Ministry to establish a new visa process to control the flow of foreigners into the country. US military officials have acknow-ledged that leaving the borders of Iraq open since the toppling of Saddam's government in April 2003 has allowed foreign fighters to slip into the country easily.
Zebari declined to name which countries in the region he considers to be meddling the most in Iraq's affairs. But in a June 8 speech, he said that Syria was not being very helpful, while Iran appeared to be taking a friendlier stand. Western and Iraqi officials have said that Iranian officials generally want to maintain stability in Iraq and are backing a range of Shiite groups in the hopes that one or more will emerge victorious in the general elections scheduled for January 2005.
Last week, the president of Syria, Bashar Assad, paid a surprise two-day visit to Iran and held a news conference with Mohammad Khatami, the Iranian president, in which the two denounced the presence of US troops in Iraq.
"There is no ambiguity between us and Syria where Iraq is concerned," Khatami said. "The solution is the quick end to the occupation, the installation of a government comprising all elements of the Iraqi people and the cooperation of the international community to bring stability and reconstruction."
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