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Obama, Iraq's Maliki set for landmark meeting

world Updated: Jul 22, 2009 15:06 IST

President Barack Obama is to host Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at the White House on Wednesday, as the US leader pushes for stronger reconciliation efforts in the conflict-wracked country.

It will be the first meeting between Maliki and Obama since US troops withdrew from Iraqi cities at the end of June, a milestone in Iraq's rehabilitation after the 2003 US-led invasion.

Maliki arrives in Washington having overseen a considerable transformation in his country since he took office three years ago, at a time of sprawling interfaith violence.

But with tensions between Shiite, Sunni and Kurd communities still simmering, the US is eager to promote political reconciliation.

The two leaders, who met in Baghdad in April, "will have frank conversations and we will have discussions on the need to keep the political process going (to avoid) any back-sliding or deterioration," said a senior administration official on Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The United States "will not dictate the solutions to the Iraqi government," stressed the official, but will offer to support Baghdad's "efforts to address political issues and build national unity."

On a trip to the Iraqi capital earlier this month, Vice President Joe Biden urged Iraqi leaders to make more progress on reconciliation between the Shiite, Sunni and Kurd communities.

Then the Iraqi government pointedly refused a US offer to intervene, describing the process as an internal matter and warned that outside interference could cause additional problems.

At the same time, both sides appear keen to broaden the agenda, with Maliki set to meet many of the top players in Obama's administration.

The Iraqi leader is to hold talks during his four-day visit with Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"This visit is a sign of a comprehensive and long term partnership between Iraq and the United States; it goes beyond security cooperation, we are not just looking at the short term, this is the beginning of a long-lasting, normal bilateral relationship with the sovereign nation of Iraq," said the US official.

Maliki is hoping to drum up investment for a country in dire need of rebuilding after years of sanctions and war. His visit will include an investment conference at the US Department of Commerce.

The prime minister's trip "is an opportunity to make progress on questions (regarding security), and to discuss economic, industrial and education cooperation," Ali Moussawi, one of Maliki's advisors, told AFP in Baghdad on Monday.

Maliki kicks off his US visit with talks on Wednesday with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a meeting likely to focus on a dispute over multi-billion-dollar reparations for Kuwait stemming from the 1990 invasion ordered by then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Iraq wants the UN Security Council to accept that it no longer poses a threat to international security, but Kuwait is insisting the reparations should be paid in full.