Ban Ki-moon holds talks with political leaders during surprise visit to Iraq

Ban Ki-moon holds talks with political leaders during surprise visit to Iraq

Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held talks today in Baghdad with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, other senior political leaders, foreign diplomats and United Nations staff members during an unannounced first stop on the UN chief’s 10-day tour of the Middle East.

The one-day trip to Baghdad is the first to Iraq by a UN Secretary-General since Mr. Ban’s predecessor Kofi Annan visited the strife-torn capital in November 2005.

Mr. Ban discussed the UN’s commitment to helping the people of Iraq during his talks with Mr. al-Maliki, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told journalists.

He also stressed the need for all major political groups to be included in the political process, the importance of upholding international human rights standards and the willingness of the UN to move forward on the International Compact for Iraq.

The Secretary-General later attended a luncheon hosted by Mr. al-Maliki, meeting there with lawmakers and other Iraqi political leaders, before holding talks with members of the foreign diplomatic corps in Baghdad, Ms. Okabe said.

He also spoke with UN staffers, both international and national, and laid a wreath at the monument for UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello who, along with 21 others, was killed in the terrorist bombing of UN headquarters in Iraq on 19 August 2003.

Responding to questions, Ms. Okabe said a mortar attack took place today in an open field about 100 metres from the compound where Mr. Ban and Mr. al-Maliki were holding a joint press conference following their talks, but no one was injured and the press conference continued. She added the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has begun an investigation into the incident.

In a press statement which welcomed Mr. Ban’s visit and the UN’s efforts to promote national reconciliation in Iraq, the Security Council decried the mortar attack.

“The members of the Security Council condemned all terrorist attacks and reaffirmed the need to combat terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and by all means, in accordance with international law,” according to the statement, read out by Ambassador Dumisani S. Kumalo of South Africa, which holds the rotating Council presidency this month.

During his Middle East trip, Mr. Ban is scheduled to visit Egypt, the occupied Palestinian territory, Israel and Jordan, and attend the Arab League Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on 28 March, before going on to Lebanon. He is due back at UN Headquarters in New York on 2 April.

UN spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists earlier this week that his main priorities for the trip would be the Middle East Peace process, stability in Lebanon, the Darfur and the UN role within the Iraq Compact.