Iraqi PM to Neighbors: Stop Terrorists From Crossing Borders

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Tuesday he was disappointed that neighboring countries have not done enough to his war-torn nation and urged them to stop terrorists from infiltrating over their borders.

Al-Maliki spoke at the opening of a meeting of Iraq's neighbors held in Kuwait aimed at rallying support for Iraq's beleaguered government.

A copy of the conference's draft resolution obtained by The Associated Press also calls for increased help from Iraq's neighbors in fighting militias and "assistance in solving the issue of Iraqi debts."

But Iraq's neighbors have made pledges to help Iraq at two previous meetings, with little follow-through. They have also promised to open diplomatic missions in Baghdad, but none has yet done so.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said Iraq was not expecting any debt forgiveness to result from Tuesday's meeting, because Kuwait still insists that Iraq pay compensation for damages from the 1991 Gulf War. Last year, Saudi Arabia announced it would forgive Iraq's debt but so far has failed to implement that decision, al-Dabbagh said.

Iraq harbors at least $67 billion in foreign debt — most of it owed to fellow Arab countries Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on the sidelines of Tuesday's meeting, called Iraqi debt relief "technical work" that "takes some time."

"But it's my understanding that it's work that is proceeding," she told reporters.

The Kuwait conference came a day after a meeting in Bahrain focused on trying to blunt Sunni Arab fears over Iran, the largest Shiite Muslim nation, which has been expanding its influence inside Iraq, also a majority Shiite country.

Washington has been pushing for regional acceptance of al-Maliki's Shiite-led government. Rice, who attended both meetings, predicted Tuesday that neighboring Arab states would soon restore diplomatic ties with Iraq.

"I think it's been a very good couple days in terms of Iraq being reintegrated into the neighborhood," Rice told reporters.

The next neighbors meeting would be held in Baghdad, Rice said, calling it "yet another sign that things are moving forward." She did not specify when the meeting would take place.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Iraq has some commitments from its neighbors about opening embassies in Baghdad soon. "We have to be patient with our Arab brothers. I think the will is there," he said. "They recognize that their actions have not been helpful."

But al-Maliki expressed frustration over the matter, saying he finds it "difficult to explain why diplomatic exchange has not taken place."

"Many foreign countries have kept their diplomatic missions in Baghdad and did not make security excuses," al-Maliki said in his opening address.

Al-Maliki said his government has reached out to improve relations with its neighbors and was disappointed that he didn't receive a more positive response from his "brothers and friends" in the region. Iraq has "passed the crisis" and is safer than it was a year ago, he said.

But neighboring countries continue to stir up violence inside Iraq and train terrorists there, al-Maliki said, without specifying to which countries he was referring.

The U.S. accuses Iran of equipping and training Shiite militias that target U.S. troops in Iraq. Washington also accuses Syria of not doing enough to stop insurgents from crossing over the border. Both countries deny the claims.

"We urge ... the neighboring countries to exert more efforts to enhance security procedures on the borders in order to stop terrorists from infiltrating our lands," he said. "We also call for drying up the springs of terrorism and its sources of finance."

Earlier this week, Kuwait's foreign minister said his country was looking to buy a building for an embassy in Baghdad's U.S.-guarded Green Zone. It would be the first Kuwaiti Embassy in Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded his tiny oil-rich neighbor in 1990.

Al Qaeda in Iraq has threatened Arab states not to open embassies in Baghdad because of the Iraqi government's collaboration with the U.S. Diplomats from Bahrain, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and other Arab countries have all been either killed, wounded or kidnapped in Iraq.

A blast at the Jordanian Embassy was the first major car bombing in Baghdad after Saddam's ouster. Nineteen people were killed, and Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for the attack.

Iran, which fought a bloody eight-year war with Iraq under Saddam in the 1980s, now has friendly ties with Iraq's leadership and is one of the few regional countries with an embassy in Baghdad. Syria and Turkey also have functioning embassies in Iraq.

Tuesday's meeting was attended by all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the Group of Eight industrialized nations, plus representatives from Persian Gulf countries and Iran.

During a group photo after al-Maliki's speech, Rice stood four places over from Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki, but U.S. diplomats in the room said the two had no interaction.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said he was not aware of any contact between Rice and Mottaki or Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem.

In his own speech Tuesday, al-Moallem called on "foreign forces to leave Iraq" — a reference to American troops currently deployed there.