Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Too early to withdraw foreign troops from Iraq - Russian FM

RIA Novosti

04/05/2007 15:04 SHARM EL-SHEIKH (Egypt), May 4 (RIA Novosti) - It is too early to withdraw foreign troops from Iraq, Russia's foreign minister said at an international conference on Iraq in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh Friday.

Sergei Lavrov said the main criterion in determining a withdrawal schedule should be Iraqi law enforcement's real preparedness to maintain law and order.

The Russian minister said the presence of coalition troops in Iraq "is one of the stabilizing factors, preventing the country from spiraling into the chaos of a full-scale internal war."

"The hasty and ill-prepared withdrawal of troops would be fraught with negative consequences," Lavrov said, adding, however, that the foreign military presence in Iraq should not last forever.

Lavrov also said that Russia proposes establishing a committee on Iraq under UN auspices, which would become a multi-faceted and responsive settlement mechanism for the Iraqi crisis.

"I believe it could be a support committee under UN auspices that could regularly consider decisions adopted at today's forum, analyze the current situation, prepare recommendations on further steps, including the convocation of new rounds of the ministerial conference," the Russian minister said.

Lavrov said that participation by all of Iraq's neighbors, the five UN Security Council permanent members, the Arab League, the EU and G8 representatives could be of key importance.

"I am convinced that working together and being guided by the long-term interests of the peoples of Iraq and of the entire region, we will be able to get things moving," Lavrov said.

On Thursday, the conference adopted an aid for reforms deal with Iraq.

Speaking at the final meeting, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki reassured the conference of Iraq's intention to honor its commitments under the deal.

The document, called the International Compact, is a five-year action plan for the Iraqi government and its international sponsors to build a united and safe democratic state in exchange for political and economic reforms.

Delegations from 60 countries, most of them represented at the foreign ministerial level, are participating in the two-day conference.

On Wednesday, U.S. President George Bush vetoed a congressional bill linking $124.2 billion in additional military funding to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by a deadline of April 1, 2008.

Speaking at the White House during a special televised broadcast, Bush called the congressional bill unacceptable, adding that it was only the second time in six and a half years that he had to use the presidential right to veto.

"Setting a deadline for the withdrawal [of troops] would be setting a date for failure," he said, adding that it would demoralize Iraqis and send a signal to the Middle East that America will not keep its commitments.

At preliminary consultations in Sharm el-Sheikh, the participants of the prospective meeting in Egypt agreed not to include the troop withdrawal into a draft final statement, the Egyptian news agency MENA quoted a high-ranking diplomat as saying Wednesday.

Earlier, an Iraqi government representative said Baghdad is against including the item into the statement, because the withdrawal of foreign troops would only be possible after Iraqi security forces can take responsibility for law and order.

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