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Ban Ki-moon highlights crucial role of Iraq's neighbours and regional partners

Ban Ki-moon highlights crucial role of Iraq's neighbours and regional partners

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today stressed the vital role played by Iraq's neighbours and regional partners in securing peace and stability in the strife-torn nation which continues to face daunting challenges.

“Iraq today is faced with an exceptionally complex series of overlapping sectarian, political and ethnic challenges,” Mr. Ban told the Expanded Meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Neighbouring Countries of Iraq, taking place in Istanbul.

He said that violence aimed at civilians and government officials continues to impede efforts to establish stability and hinders national dialogue. At the same time, increasing levels of displacement add to an already alarming humanitarian crisis.

“In the face of the unrelenting challenges and potential changes, neighbouring countries, and those in the region, remain vital for stability in Iraq,” Mr. Ban stated.

While noting that it is the central responsibility of the Government of Iraq to advance national reconciliation and to create conditions for a more stable political and security situation, he added that Iraq's neighbours can reinforce the Government's efforts. “The magnitude of the challenges confronting the government requires a comprehensive approach embraced by all actors, regional and international.”

“It is my hope that today we establish a basis for concrete action? aimed at building confidence and strengthening cooperation,” said Mr. Ban. “The people of Iraq and the region expect and deserve this from our efforts.”

In addition to promoting greater regional dialogue, the Istanbul meeting seeks to strengthen the work of the three working groups focusing on refugees and internally displaced persons, border security and energy that were established at the last ministerial meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Outlining the progress made so far, Mr. Ban said that the energy working group, which met in Istanbul, provided the basis for discussions on investment in Iraq's energy sector while allowing Iraq to outline infrastructure needs. Progress was made in reaching bilateral electricity agreements, discussing a regional electricity grid, and addressing many other areas of energy sector work, including the needs of the oil sector.

The working group on displaced Iraqis, which met in Amman, established procedures for cooperation between Iraq and refugee host countries and secured pledges of assistance.

“The Iraqi cabinet decision to provide financial assistance to refugee host countries, in accordance with the commitment made in Geneva last April, is a welcome and much needed development,” said Mr. Ban. “Now it is time to finalize the delivery mechanism for this support so that vital assistance to the refugee population is bolstered immediately.”

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that more than 4.4 million Iraqis have left their homes. Of these, some 2.2 million are displaced internally, while more than 2.2 million have fled to neighbouring States, particularly Syria and Jordan.

Mr. Ban said the border security working group that met in Damascus made important strides to outline cooperation in the exchange of security and intelligence information, developing enhanced communication at the borders, preventing incitement of violence, and even encouraging political participation inside Iraq. “The importance of these actions, particularly the need to secure both sides of the border, cannot be over emphasized,” he stated.

The series of incidents along the border between Turkey and Iraq demonstrate the importance of continued strong engagement to address all concerns, the Secretary-General noted. “It is clearly unacceptable that Iraq's territory is used to mount cross-border attacks and we recognize Turkey's security concerns. The Governments of Iraq and Turkey must work hard to address this challenge and I am confident that a mutually acceptable solution can be found.”

Mr. Ban pointed out that since the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting, the UN has been given a strengthened mandate in Iraq under Security Council resolution 1770. “I welcome the establishment of the support mechanism with which we can enhance our support to the Government of Iraq, particularly in facilitating national and regional dialogue, as well as in humanitarian and development assistance.”

At the conference, the Secretary-General held a series of bilateral meetings, including with Prime Minister Erdogan of Turkey and with Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq. He also met with the Foreign Ministers of France, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Iran and Syria, as well as the United States Secretary of State and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.

In addition to Iraq, bilateral discussions focused on related regional issues, the Middle East, Myanmar, Darfur, Lebanon and Somalia.