SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – Iraq's neighbors negotiated a declaration Friday that would pledge support for Iraq's embattled Shiite-led government in return for more inclusion of Sunni Arabs in the political process.
The declaration, to be issued on the final day of a major regional conference on Iraq, came amid little sign that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would meet her Iranian counterpart.
The Iraqi government has pressed for talks between Rice and Manouchehr Mottaki, saying Washington's conflict with the government in Tehran is fueling instability in Iraq.
But U.S. officials have played down the chances for any substantive exchange, and some said they would wait for clearer signals from the Iranians that they were ready to talk.
A draft copy of the six-page declaration said the summit participants would agree to support Iraq's government as long as it ensured the "basic right of all Iraqi citizens to participate peacefully in the political process through the country's political system."
The declaration of support came one day after participants agreed on an ambitious blueprint to stabilize Iraq.
The International Compact with Iraq sets benchmarks to achieve a stable, united, democratic Iraq within five years. It defines international help for Iraq — including debt relief — but also sets tough commitments on the Baghdad government, particularly carrying out reforms aimed at giving Iraq's Sunni Arabs a greater role in the political process.
But Saudi Arabia said it was still negotiating with Iraq over writing off billions of dollars it is owed, and major creditors Kuwait and Russia failed to offer immediate debt relief — a key goal of the blueprint.
The absence of major commitments to reduce Iraq's debt was a sign that some, particularly Sunni Arab, nations are still keeping their distance from Iraq's government.
Still, the Iraqi government, the United Nations and many of the more than 60 countries and international organizations gathered here hailed the launch of the blueprint as a milestone.
It was an initiative of Iraq's first elected government, launched soon after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki took office in June 2006 and strongly backed by the United Nations.
The debt issue loomed large over the meeting's unfinished business.
The Paris Club of affluent lender nations has already written off $100 billion of Iraq's debt — most from former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's war against Iran in the 1990s.
But the government still owes a huge amount. Iraq's finance minister put the total remaining at roughly $50 billion, but the numbers vary and in some cases are still not resolved — with some estimates as high as $62 billion.
Iraq's al-Maliki opened the conference urging "all our friends ... to forgive our debts and allow us to launch our reconstruction and development."
But the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia — a major lender — made no immediate public pledge. Saud al-Faisal said only that his country was in talks with Iraq "to have an appropriate solution to debts in line with rules of the Paris Club," which calls for forgiving at least 80 percent of Iraq's debts.
Before the conference, al-Faisal had confirmed that the kingdom would forgive 80 percent of Iraq's debt, raising expectations of an official announcement Thursday.
U.N. officials said the problem is that Saudi Arabia and Iraq never kept records and have not agreed on the size of the debt. Iraq's finance minister puts the debt at $17 billion, while the Saudis have estimated it at between $15 billion and $18 billion.
Kuwait is owed $15 billion, but its democratically elected parliament is refusing to consider any debt relief to Iraq — and the country's deputy prime minister did not mention the issue. There was also no mention of writing off the $13 billion Russia is owed.
China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, whose country is owed $8 billion, said Beijing "is ready to substantially reduce and forgive the debts owed by Iraq" and will forgive all government debts. He gave no figures.
Bulgaria, owed $4 billion, said it was finalizing "technical talks" with Iraq and then would consider a "realistic solution."
New grants and soft loans also came in.
British Prime Minister Margaret Beckett promised some $400 million. Other pledges from South Korea, Australia, Denmark and Spain totaled about $280 million.
In New York, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. said the international community has been slow to live up to aid pledges in the past.
Zalmay Khalilzad, who until recently was the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, said most countries have not come through on $13.5 billion in pledges made at a 2003 donor's conference in Madrid.