London : The British government has reiterated its commitment to continue its support for the Iraqi government in its efforts to establish security and stability and bolster its fledgling democracy.
At a joint news conference following their meeting here Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett and her visiting Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari spoke about the serious challenges facing the Iraqi government as a result of the terrorist attacks by the insurgents who wanted to destabilise the country and sow divisions.
For her part, Beckett admitted that the Iraqi government is facing serious challenges, primarily the security problems and attacks by the insurgents which represent a major threat.
However, the Foreign Secretary noted that the majority of Iraqis want to have a peaceful future for their country and to consolidate their democratic process.
She condemned the recent attacks on Sunni and Shia holy shrines, stressing that these acts show the contempt the insurgents have for human rights as they try to fulfil their desire to provoke divisions in the country.
Britain “wanted to reiterate to the Iraqi government that it will remain steadfast in its support and it acknowledges that the future of Iraq is in Iraqi hands,” she said.
Beckett also referred to the continued process of handing over more provinces to the Iraqi security forces. She said that the British forces in southern Iraq have already handed over the responsibility of seven provinces to the Iraqi forces.
The Foreign Secretary agreed with Zebari that their meeting at the Foreign Office Wednesday, which lasted for more than half an hour, was “friendly and constructive, and that they discussed matters of mutual interest.”
Meanwhile, Zebari told reporters that he exchanged views with Beckett on the current situation in Iraq and the region.
The Iraqi minister reaffirmed his government’s “gratitude and appreciation for the solid and continued support of the British government during this difficult period.”
He also voiced his appreciation of the sacrifices made by the British forces in the south of the country.
In answer to questions, Zebari said that the key message he wanted to pass on is that Iraq is passing through a difficult phase as the Iraqi government is launching a new political initiative in order to consolidate the progress already achieved on the ground in Baghdad.
The Iraqi foreign minister said that he was encouraged by the steadfast position taken by the British government in support of the Iraqi people.
Referring to the process of the handover of power to British Prime Minister-elect Gordon Brown, as Tony Blair formally tenders his resignation next week, Zebari said: “We have full confidence that Britain will not abandon us at this difficult time.”
He then elaborated on the regional diplomatic moves taken by his government to engage the neighbours and to strengthen the UN’s role in Iraq.
In answer to another question, Zebari said that he did not have the opportunity to meet Brown during his visit here. He also recalled that when Brown paid a surprise visit to Baghdad lately, he was on his way to New York.
However, the Iraqi foreign minister said that Brown’s visit to Iraq demonstrates his continued commitment to Iraq.
In answer to a question by KUNA, Zebari said that continued efforts are undertaken by the Iraqi government to engage its neighbours, while pointing out that following the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting on Iraq three working groups have been set up to expand cooperation with the neighbours and discuss the support they can offer to Iraq and meet its needs.
On the possibility of a second meeting between US and Iranian representatives to discuss Iraq, Zebari said that his country does not want to become a place for settling scores between separate parties “as we want our neighbours to play a constructive role.”
In the meantime, he expressed the hope that a second round of talks will be held between the American and Iranian diplomats to continue their discussions on how to help Iraq. However, Zebari said that there is no fixed date yet for such a meeting.
In answer to a question about the knighthood awarded by Queen Elizabeth to the controversial author Salman Rushdie, Zebari mildly criticised the move, saying that Iraq, as a Muslim country, believes that this decision was “untimely.” But he said he was here expressing his personal point of view.
Zebari expressed his concern that some quarters might exploit this issue, but said: “We respect the British government’s decision.”