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UN chief urges Iraq and Kuwait to find alternative to Iraqi payment of $24 billion debt

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UN chief urges Iraq and Kuwait to find alternative to Iraqi payment of $24 billion debt
By Edith M. Lederer (CP) – 1 day ago

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged Iraq and Kuwait to discuss alternatives to payment of the $24 billion debt Baghdad owes Kuwait as a result of Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of its tiny neighbour.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council reviewing all Iraq-related resolutions adopted after the Kuwait invasion, Ban suggested the possibility of converting the outstanding payments into investments that would meet Iraq's reconstruction needs "and be beneficial to the region as a whole."

He noted that this possibility was discussed during the recent visit to Kuwait by the speaker of Iraq's Parliament, and he encouraged discussions on alternative solutions to continue.

Last week, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki urged the Security Council's most powerful members to cancel all sanctions and more than 70 resolutions adopted after the Kuwait invasion, saying Iraq is now a democracy that poses no threat to international peace and security.

The council decided on Dec. 22 to review all post-invasion resolutions and asked the secretary-general to consult the Iraqi government and report his findings so the council can take action allowing "Iraq to achieve the status it enjoyed prior to the adoption of such resolutions."

In his 19-page report, Ban said that nearly two decades after the invasion the situation "is yet to normalize fully," though both countries have been making progress toward resolving some issues. Ban stressed that "a high degree of political will on both sides is still required to achieve this."

Iraq currently pays 5 per cent of the proceeds of all oil and gas sales into a U.N. Compensation Fund, but al-Maliki, citing the ongoing financial crisis, has been pressing to lower the payment to 1 per cent or eliminate payments altogether.

Ban said the $24 billion owed to Kuwait is mainly related to oil sector losses following the invasion, including the cost of extinguishing oil well fires and damage to government buildings and ministries. In addition, Kuwait seeks some $1.2 billion to settle an environmental claim.

Noting Iraq's obligation to contribute to the Compensation Fund and its request to lower or eliminate payments, the secretary-general said: "I strongly encourage Iraq and other stakeholders to actively discuss alternative solutions to the issue of outstanding compensation and debt payments, including through investments, in the mutual interest of Iraq's people and the region as a whole."

On other Iraq-Kuwait issues, Ban urged steps that would pave the way for the two countries to take over maintenance of their border. And while Iraqi efforts have resulted in the identification of the remains of 236 missing Kuwaitis and the return of some Kuwaiti property, the secretary-general noted that Kuwait's archives have still not been found and 369 Kuwaitis remain unaccounted for.

In May 2003, the council lifted economic sanctions against Iraq, opening the country to international trade and investment and allowing oil exports to resume. In June 2004, it lifted an embargo on the sale of conventional weapons to the government.

But there are still limits on some activities related to the possible production of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and missiles with a range of more than 150 kilometres (90 miles) are still banned.

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