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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

21 May 2006

U.S. Officials Hail Formation of Unity Government in Iraq

President Bush, Secretary Rice send congratulations, pledge continued support

By Howard Cincotta
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- President Bush praised the establishment of a government of national unity in Iraq and, in phone calls to Iraq's new president, prime minister and speaker of parliament May 21, pledged continued U.S. support to build a nation of peace and freedom.

"The formation of a unity government in Iraq is a new day for the millions of Iraqis who want to live in peace," Bush said in a brief public statement. "A free Iraq will be an important ally in the war on terror, will serve as a devastating defeat for the terrorists and al Qaeda, and will serve as an example for others in the region who desire to be free."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also welcomed the inauguration of the new government, noting that Iraq had moved from Saddam's one-man dictatorship to a democratic national unity government in just three years.  "This is a remarkable transformation and one which the United States is proud to have helped bring about," she said.

Appearing on both Fox News Sunday and NBC's Meet the Press, Rice said that delays in filling the key posts of defense, interior and national security reflected the seriousness and determination of the new government to take its time and make the best possible selections.  She predicted that the new government would enjoy the support of 90 percent of the Iraqi parliament.

Speaking from Baghdad on CNN's Late Edition, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wanted these key ministries filled by "people who are unifiers ... not people with ties to militias, but people who are broadly accepted by the Iraqis."  He said that al-Maliki is interviewing candidates and predicted that the posts would be filled within a week.

"We need to recognize that with the very difficult things that they are trying to do, they are making extraordinary progress politically," Rice said on Fox News Sunday.

Al-Maliki "is demonstrating a kind of resolve, because he's now a permanently elected leader, not an interim leader whose job it is to get a constitution or to set up elections, but whose job it is to govern permanently," she said.

On NBC's Meet the Press, Rice said that the new prime minister has demonstrated strength and focus, and is "already working on behalf of the Iraqi people."  He has promised to use "maximum force" to stop terrorist violence, disband militias and unauthorized armed groups and accelerate the training and deployment of Iraqi security forces, she said.

Khalilzad acknowledged on CNN's Late Edition that sectarian violence is a serious concern and said al-Maliki well understood the need for a plan to demobilize militia forces and integrate them back into civil society -- or in some cases, into the regular security forces.  The prime minister, Khalilzad said, "has spoken clearly and forcefully about the need that only authorized people should carry weapon in Iraqi streets."

Rice refused to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. or coalition forces, and said that any drawdown of U.S. troops would be "condition-based" and done in close consultation with the new Iraqi government.

Rice said on NBC's Meet the Press that she had talked to Iraqi leaders who had lost family members to insurgent violence.  At every turn, she said, "They say the way that we honor that memory is to form a government of national unity and to make Iraq a stable democracy."

Asked about the Guantanamo detention facility, Rice said the United States has no desire to be the world's jailer and will be delighted when the time came to close Guantanamo.  Hundreds of prisoners have already been released to their native countries, she noted on both Fox News Sunday and NBC's Meet the Press, and more will be when the U.S. can be assured that the individuals will not be mistreated and will be monitored to ensure they can't commit further crimes.

On the other hand, she said on Fox News Sunday,"We cannot be in a situation in which we are just turning loose people who have vowed to kill more Americans if they're released." (See related article.)

For more information on U.S. policies, see Iraq Update.

IRAN

Asked about Iran, Rice denied that any nation has asked the United States to provide security guarantees to reach a diplomatic agreement.   Iran must choose between two courses of action, she said. One path will lead to isolation and sanctions if the government continues down the course toward nuclear weapons. The other is a path of cooperation that can lead to civil nuclear energy and integration into the international community, she said.  (See related article.)

The United States and the international community have other concerns with Iran besides just the nuclear issue, Rice said on NBC's Meet the Press. "Let's remember that this is a state that threatens to destroy Israel, that is a central banker of terrorism, that is engaged every day in supporting Hezbollah and rejectionist groups in the Palestinian territories, that has stirred up violence in the south of Iraq ... It's certainly strange to talk about security guarantees in that circumstance." (See related article.)

For more information on U.S. policies, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

The text of Bush's May 21 statement on the new Iraq unity government is available on the White House Web site.

Rice's statement on the new Iraqi government and the transcripts of her interviews on Fox News Sunday and NBC's Meet the Press are available on the State Department Web site.

Khalilzad's interview on CNN's Late Edition is available on the network's Web site.

(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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