02 April 2006
In Baghdad, Rice Urges Progress on Government of National Unity
Iraqis must end perception of political "drift," secretary says
By Howard Cincotta
Washington File Special Correspondent
Washington -- During a surprise trip to Baghdad April 2, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Iraqi leaders and urged them to complete their political negotiations by selecting a prime minister with enough support to form a broad-based government of national unity.
Rice traveled to Baghdad with British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, with whom she had been visiting northern England and the cities of Blackburn and Liverpool. (See related article.)
Accompanied by Straw and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad, Rice met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and other leaders, according to news reports.
Rice said that she recognized the difficulties in forming a governing coalition, especially in a time of violence when many of the procedures and by-laws for establishing a new government were not yet in place. Nevertheless, she said in a roundtable with journalists, "People have a sense of drift in the process both in Iraq and outside of Iraq ... But of course, the only way that you correct that perception is that they've got to move forward is getting a prime minister and moving on."
A government of national unity is vital to confront and "disable" the insurgents who are trying to enflame sectarian violence, she said. (See related article.)
NO DEADLINE FOR FORMING IRAQI GOVERNMENT
In remarks en route to Baghdad, Rice denied that the United States would impose any deadline on the Iraqis to form a government. "I don't believe in deadlines and timelines. That's not the way this business works. But it should be very clear to everyone that the time has come for these negotiations to produce a government of national unity, and that will be the message."
The secretary reported that she was encouraged by much of the less-visible political progress that has taken place in Iraq, notably the "maturing" of Sunni political leadership.
"When I was here in November," she said, "it was sort of hard to imagine that they were going to be a voice for the Sunni people. It didn't seem that they really had the kind of connections that you see in the Shia political leadership or the Kurdish political leadership."
Rice stressed that the United States has no wish to interfere in the process by which the Shia, whose United Iraqi Alliance is the largest bloc in the parliament, has the opportunity to nominate the prime minister. On the other hand, Rice observed, the individual chosen for prime minister must then demonstrate enough support to form a government.
"And thus far, Jaafri has not been able to do that," Rice said. "Now, maybe he will be able to do it, but the urgency is that whoever is going to be the prime minister candidate is actually able to bring enough of the other votes on board to have a government of national unity."
She observed that Foreign Minister Straw, as both a government minister and member of the British parliament, was able to draw upon his experiences to discuss ways in which political parties can negotiate with each other and reach agreements on cabinet posts and formation of a new government.
RICE PRAISES "INTERNAL COHESION" OF INTERIM GOVERNMENT
Rice paid tribute to what she called the "internal strength and internal cohesion" of the Iraqi interim government and leadership in overcoming the aftermath of the bombing of the Samarra mosque in February. (See related article.)
"Not only did they overcome it, but they overcame it in some pretty creative ways," Rice said. "I've been really amazed at is the resilience of this political process against a lot of very tough odds. But I did say to them ... don't take the chance that you have to be resilient again because a government of national unity will clearly be more resilient than an interim government."
In response to questions while traveling to Baghdad, Rice said that the United States has the greatest respect for Ayatollah Sistani, who "has been a voice of reason at difficult times for the Iraqi people ... who has used his position of considerable authority in the Shia community to urge an Iraq that would be tolerant and inclusive of all Iraqis. And so we have enormous respect for him."
She said, however, that U.S. officials would not be meeting with Muqtada al-Sadr, but only with officials devoted to a national-unity government who do not use violence to back their claims.
For more information on U.S. policies, see Iraq Update.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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