Timeline needed for Iraq troop withdrawal: Russian FM

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said there has to be a defined end to the foreign military presence in Iraq. His comments came near the end of a two-day international conference in Egypt about Iraq's future.

Mr Lavrov says the Russian proposal for a timeline for a withdrawal of troops found support  from delegates, who'd come from more than 50 countries.

An agreement, labeled the Iraqi Compact, was signed by all countries. It is a five year plan that looks at countries providing Iraq with diplomatic, financial and political support in exchange for reforms.  

“The document reflects the view point of most the countries. We need to start this dialogue between all the ethnic groups in Iraq and give each an opportunity to have its own niche in the country’s political system. We need to set a timeline for troop withdrawal from the country which is major irritation for its population. We will create a group of inspectors that will oversee the implementation of the document’s ideas. They will view the real situation in Iraq and give recommendations to the ministers for the next meeting,” Mr Lavrov said.

Russia has offered to write off Iraq's debt, which amounts to some $US 8 BLN, in exchange for access to Iraqi oil fields. Iraq has so far refused the offer. Iraq’s debt to Russia dates back to the 1980s.

“The debts are considered within the context of the Paris Club rules. Russia has assumed the obligation to restructure and to write off a considerable part of the debt. The size of the debt to be written off in percentage terms exceeds the debts to other Paris Club members. There's no connection with other conditions except the Paris Club rules. At the same time, there is still an issue in respect to the signed contracts,” Sergey Lavrov stated. 

The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al Maliki, asked all countries present to write off debts owed by Iraq, which is thought to total about $US 30 BLN.

“The debts of Iraq to the Paris Club have accumulated as a result of the dictator’s adventurous policies. We are happy that the world’s society is willing to make advances to Iraq and to write off the debt in replacement for good relations with our country,” Nouri Al-Maliki said.

Since the beginning of the U.S.-led occupation about 2 MLN of Iraqis have fled from their country and about 100,000 have settled in Egypt. 

“I often think about returning home. But when I call my relatives who still live in Iraq, they say the situation is getting worse. There are thousands of Iraqis here, and they all want just one thing – peace,” Mahmoud Mehsin, Iraqi refugee, explains.

Kanaan Mohamed, an Iraqi refugee who fled Iraq a year ago says, “I remember there was a similar conference three years ago and it brought nothing. Iraq’s main problem is not its neighbors but its government. Nobody thinks about ordinary people here.”

Meantime, the negotiations at the conference were almost stopped because of a Russian violin player. Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki walked out of a formal dinner, allegedly complaining that the woman's clothing was too revealing. But for some observers, the reason for his departure was the fact that he was seated too close to the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

For days the corridors have been abuzz with the question of whether or not Condoleezza Rice would use the opportunity to meet with the Iranian Foreign Minister. A dinner could have been a place where the two would sit opposite each other and exchange pleasantries. Those pleasantries, it was hoped, would evolve into a conversation that would see the two sides talking to each other for the first time in 27 years. 

The U.S. State Department spokesman says he is not sure what Mr Mottaki was more afraid of – the red dress of the U.S. Secretary of State.

Russian born violinist, Larissa Abramova, said she felt good in the dress. “I do not think the dress is revealing and I think the Minister left the dinner for different reasons, which had nothing to do with me or my dress,” she noted.