Iran Lauds Plan for US Withdrawal from Iraq

A03550037.jpgTEHRAN (FNA) – Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki lauded Washington’s planned troop drawdown in Iraq, but urged the US to expedite handing over full control of all affairs, including security, to the Baghdad government.

Mottaki made the remarks in Davos on a day where he used a public meeting at the World Economic Forum (WEF) and a separate talk with reporters to criticize the US for its push for new UN sanctions against Tehran, as well as its Afghan and Iraq policies.

Middle East instability has been one important focus of the four-day giant brainstorming session gathering scholars, political, religious and business leaders at the Swiss Alpine resort, and a session with both Mottaki and Khalilzad on the same podium drew a full house, an AP report said.

Mottaki urged the United States and the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council to hold off on any new sanctions against his country.

Elements of a new draft UN resolution obtained Friday by The Associated Press outlined new sanction proposals against Iran, including bans on travel, and stepped up monitoring of Tehran’s financial institutions.

In arguing for a delay, Mottaki said the council should wait until the International Atomic Energy Agency completes its probe of Iran’s past nuclear activities, at the latest in early March.

The investigation of the Islamic Republic’s former nuclear program that started last year is in its final stage, with diplomats confirming that Tehran has shown much cooperativeness and removed a main section of ambiguities over its nuclear programs and activities.

Mottaki advised the Security Council “to exercise restraint,” adding, “Everybody should wait until the final record comes out so we can talk.”

But Khalilzad said that no matter what the probe concludes, Iran would face continued Security Council pressure unless it mothballs its enrichment program.

“These two things are separate,” he told the AP, describing the IAEA probe as having “atmospheric effect but not … substantive effect” and noting the Security Council is following earlier resolution demands to suspend enrichment.

In Iraq, “Iran … expresses support for the government of … (Prime Minister Nouri) al-Maliki, but at the same time … provides training for extremists,” Khalilzad said.

Mottaki denied such action and complained of “insinuations and the mis-propaganda launched by the Americans.”

He said it was Iran’s right to say that “the policies of the United States in Afghanistan have been wrong and misguided because they have failed … and that the United States should change and correct its policies inside Iraq.”

In earlier comments to reporters, however, he did have restrained praise for some of Washington’s plans in Iraq, saying any move to reduce troop strength there “will be a good decision.” And he spoke approvingly of Britain transferring military control of Basra to Iraqi forces last month.

Mottaki also said it was time to hand over domestic matters to the Iraqi government, “including the security dossier of Iraq.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said earlier this month that US plans to withdraw five combat brigades through next summer remain on track, which would bring the overall troop level to about 130,000.

Gates said US commander Gen. David Petraeus’ assessment later this year would determine whether further withdrawals can be made in 2008, but that he hopes the pace of the drawdowns will continue into the second half of the year.

Previously, Gates has expressed hopes that the US military presence in Iraq can drop to around 100,000 troops before President Bush leaves office next January.

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