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Obama, Maliki discuss ethnic healing, investment in Iraq

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Obama, Maliki discuss ethnic healing, investment in Iraq




[color:7384=#333333! important]The Iraqi prime minister also works to get trade barriers lifted during his visit to the U.S.
[color:7384=#999999! important]By Mark Silva
July 23, 2009
Reporting from Washington -- President Obama, calling for a broader relationship between Iraq and the United States, acknowledged today that "differences in strategy" remain to be resolved, but said he was satisfied with developments in the war-torn nation.

Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, in private meetings at the White House, also addressed the Obama administration's desire to see speedier ethnic reconciliation inside Iraq and the Iraqi government's appetite for accelerated new U.S. investment there.



One of Maliki's chief goals on the U.S. trip was to persuade the United Nations to lift trade barriers that had been imposed on Iraq following Saddam Hussein's invasion of neighboring Kuwait in 1990. While many of the sanctions have been lifted, some remain along with the Security Council's determination that Iraq represents a threat to international peace. Obama backed Maliki's quest.

"We have made a strong commitment to work with Iraq to get out of the Chapter Seven constraints that were imposed after the Gulf War," Obama said in a Rose Garden news conference after meeting the Iraqi leader. "It would be a mistake for Iraq to continue to be burdened [by the acts of] a deposed dictator."

Earlier, at the U.N., Maliki was told the restraints could soon be lifted.


"There is an opportunity," British Ambassador John Sawers said after joining representatives of the U.S., China, France and Russia in a meeting with Maliki. "One of the things that came out of the meeting with the prime minister was that the time was right to address these issues."

The meeting came at a critical juncture for U.S. and Iraqi leaders. Under a security agreement, U.S. forces have pulled back from Iraqi cities and are preparing for a complete withdrawal by 2011. Iraqis, meanwhile, are preparing for another round of elections next year amid uneven security and continuing ethnic tension.

"We have seen both improved capacity and greater confidence on the part of Iraqi security forces," Obama said. "There are going to be, at times, differences in strategy."

This was Obama's first meeting with Maliki since the U.S. troop pullback. The two had met in Baghdad in April, and Vice President Joe Biden recently met with Maliki there, relaying the administration's concern about the pace of ethnic healing.

The Iraqi government should promote "national unity," Obama said. This includes approval of legislation to share oil revenues and integrating the country's various ethnic and religious groups into its government and security forces.

Obama downplayed concerns that Iraqi officials are restricting operations of U.S. troops.

"Overall, we have been very encouraged by the progress that's been made," Obama said. "But what we've seen is that the violence levels have remained low, the cooperation between U.S. forces and Iraqi forces has remained high, and we have every confidence that we will continue to work together cooperatively."

In his meeting with Obama, Maliki said, he also emphasized Iraq's thirst for stepped-up U.S. investment. The prime minister planned a visit to Arlington National Cemetery on Thursday, in honor of more than 4,000 American military men and women who have died in Iraq.

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