Iraq economic plan approved, Rice meets Syrian minister


Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt) : More than 50 countries have endorsed an international proposal to help the Iraqi economy during the first day of a two-day conference in Egypt, aimed at stabilising the beleaguered nation.

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The five-year International Compact for Iraq includes debt reduction and aid packages but also requires the Iraqi government to take stronger steps to end sectarian violence and move toward political reconciliation between Shias and Sunnis.

Much of the focus at the conference centred around US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s meeting with her Syrian counterpart, Walid Moallem, in what was the highest level contact between the two countries in years.

Washington has been frustrated by Syria’s lack of cooperation at halting the flow of militants into Iraq and the alleged meddling in Lebanon and support for Palestinian militants.

Rice said the discussion focused exclusively on Iraq and curbing militant crossing. She described the meeting as “professional” and “businesslike”.

“I didn’t lecture him, he didn’t lecture me,” Rice said, adding that that the US wants a better relationship with Damascus but that there needs “concrete steps” with regard to Iraq.

“The Syrians clearly say that they believe that stability in Iraq is in their interests, but actions will speak louder than words,” Rice said.

Moallem said that the talks had “certainly improved the atmosphere”, but that it would take time to determine whether they will have a positive effect.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said at the end of Thursday’s meeting that an estimated $30 billion had already been pledged in debt reduction and for urgent reconstruction projects.

Saudi Arabia has pledged to write off 80 percent of the billions of dollars Iraq owes, but only after insisting the Iraqi government take stronger steps to protect Sunnis as a condition for economic help.