Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia to look to Paris Club on debt relief for Iraq - Lavrov

RIA Novosti

04/05/2007 18:33 SHARM EL-SHEIKH, May 4 (RIA Novosti) - Russia could provide debt relief for Iraq without any conditions other than those set by the Paris Club of creditor nations, the Russian foreign minister said Friday.

Speaking to reporters after an international conference on ways to stabilize war-torn Iraq, Sergei Lavrov said: "Russia has undertaken to reschedule [Iraq's] debt and to waive much of it - in fact, a far higher percentage than [that offered by] other Paris Club members - and that's not conditioned on anything but the rules of the Paris Club."

The Paris Club has called for forgiving at least 80% of Iraq's outstanding debt, which is estimated at $140 billion, including some $10 billion owed to Russia.

Addressing the gathering of more than 60 nations in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, said all lenders should write off his country's debt unconditionally, as most of the money had been borrowed by former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to finance a war against Iran in the 1990s.

The Russian delegation, however, emphasized the need to honor contracts signed with foreign companies before the toppling of Saddam by a U.S.-led coalition in 2003 - something the new Iraqi government is reluctant to do.

Debt relief for Iraq is central to a blueprint launched at the Sharm el-Sheikh conference to bring security and economic prosperity to the Middle Eastern country, which is struggling to overcome the aftermath of the U.S. invasion, including a ruined infrastructure and endemic communal violence bordering on civil war.

The document, known as the International Compact, offers financial and other support to Iraqi institutions in return for the government's commitment to pursue political and economic reform and promote national reconciliation.

According to Finance Minister Bayan Jabor, 52 countries have already offered full or partial debt relief for Iraq. Specifically, Egypt pledged to forgive $800 million in debt, while Slovenia, Poland and Bulgaria said they would provide an 80% waiver of the debt owed to them.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, whose country is owed $8 billion, said Thursday Beijing would write off all of Iraq's government debt, but gave no figures.

However, major lenders such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait failed to offer immediate debt relief to Iraq, saying they are still negotiating the terms with the Iraqi government.

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