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22 Apr, 2008 11:05

Iraq not ready for troop pullout: Russian FM

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has ruled out Iraq taking immediate control of its own security, saying local law enforcement agencies are not yet prepared.

“There is a point one should keep in mind. This concerns the schedule of the withdrawal of foreign troops, which many Iraqi residents consider as – let's honestly acknowledge it – occupants,” Lavrov said.

“But an immediate withdrawal is out of the question of course. There are no conditions in place for that,” he added.

The statement came at a ministerial meeting between Iraq, its neighbours and permanent members of the U.N. Security Council held in Kuwait.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is encouraging Iraq's neighbours to help by opening embassies, offering debt relief and backing its drive to disarm Shi'ite militia.

France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner says all EU member countries “must be opening or re-opening embassies in Iraq” and helping its people.

“One day the Americans will leave, so we have to prepare to be close to our friends,” he said.

However, while all participants agree on a vision of a stable and secure Iraq, unity isn’t their strongest point.

The U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is pressing for Iraq’s Arab neighbours to beef up their diplomatic presence in Baghdad – a move Washington hopes would show support for the Iraqi government and curb Iran’s influence in the country.

The U.S. accuses Tehran of arming and financing Iraq’s insurgents. Iran denies the claims, instead blaming Washington for the violence.

No Arab state has a full-time ambassador in Baghdad – many citing security concerns.

Kuwait announced plans to open an embassy but both Condoleezza Rice and the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki believe the Arab countries should be doing a better job living up to their promises of help.

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed the Iraqis themselves should have the political will to unite.

In February, Russia agreed to write off $ US 12 billion of Iraqi debt built up by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Now the Iraqi Prime Minister urged his Gulf neighbours to fulfill their pledges of debt relief.

The conference follows two similar gatherings last year in Egypt and Turkey.

This is the most high-profile event hosted by Kuwait since the Gulf War.