Fri, Jan 19, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Ban turns down Bush Iraq request

AP , UNITED NATIONS

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he could not agree to a request from US President George W. Bush to increase the UN presence in Iraq because of security concerns amid rising violence.

Ban, who took over as UN chief on Jan. 1, said the organization would, nonetheless, try to increase UN participation in the International Compact for Iraq, a five-year plan to ensure that Iraq's government has funds to survive and enact key political and economic reforms.

Ban spoke to reporters on Wednesday on his return from a two-day visit to Washington, where he held talks with Bush and met US congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"President Bush wanted to see an increased presence and role of the United Nations in Iraq," Ban said.

"I told President Bush that ... the UN presence and operations in Iraq is actually constrained by the situation on the ground -- I mean the security concerns -- but we will try to continue to participate and increase our role in Iraq, including the International Compact with Iraq," he said.

Former secretary-general Kofi Annan withdrew the UN's international staff from Iraq in 2003 following two attacks on UN offices in Baghdad and a spate of attacks on humanitarian workers. The first attack killed the top UN envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 others.

UN staffers started returning in August 2004 and UN experts played key roles in helping Iraqis draft a new constitution and prepare for elections, but the numbers on the ground are limited because of increasing insecurity, especially in Baghdad.

"The United Nations has been and will continue wherever and whenever we can to increase our presence there, but that will be largely constrained by the security concerns," Ban told reporters on Wednesday.

Relations between the US and the UN reached a low point in early 2003 when the UN Security Council refused to authorize a war over Iraq's suspected weapons of mass destruction. Bush went ahead and led an invasion of Iraq without UN authorization in March 2003.

John Bolton, who could not win Senate confirmation as US ambassador to the UN and resigned last month as his temporary appointment was about to expire, was highly critical of the organization, especially its reform efforts, and was unhappy with Annan's performance on a number of issues.

During his meetings in Washington, Ban said, he emphasized the importance of "a strong partnership" between the US and the UN in addressing UN reform and global challenges.

The secretary-general said he was "very much encouraged" that Bush pledged continued US support and participation "in all areas of UN activities," and he welcomed the "very strong support and warm reception by congressional leaders."

Ban refused to compare his approach to dealing with the US with Annan's.

"What I stressed during my meetings with President Bush and all congressional leaders is that while there was a time when the relationship between the United Nations and the United States was not easy, it is time now to look for better days between the United Nations and the United States," Ban said. "And I am quite confident that we will see better days and a mutually cooperative relationship."

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