UAE Hosts Iraq's PM, Waives Iraqi DebtBy Suzanne Presto
Irbil, Iraq
06 July 2008

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is in the United Arab Emirates' capital of Abu Dhabi for an official two-day visit. VOA's Suzanne Presto reports on the growing ties from Iraqi Kurdistan's city of Irbil.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (file)Mr. Maliki and his delegation were greeted with fanfare and the Iraqi national anthem when they landed in Abu Dhabi.

When the delegation arrived at President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan's palace, the officials were greeted with an announcement that also must have been music to their ears.

The Emirates' official news agency quotes Sheikh Khalifa as saying the UAE has canceled about $4 billion in debt owed by Iraq. Once interest is factored in, Emirati officials say that figure reaches about $7 billion.

The official news agency also quotes the president as saying he made the gesture in an effort to help Iraq carry out reconstruction projects.

In another development, diplomatic sources say that the UAE has named its envoy to India, Abdullah Ibrahim al Shehhi, as the new ambassador to Iraq. The decision to open an embassy in Baghdad and appoint an ambassador was announced last month.

Before visiting the president's palace, Mr. Maliki said Arab nations must cooperate to address political, security and economic issues in the region.

The prime minister said his visit to the Emirates shows Iraq is serious about Arabian unity, as well as a specific desire to deepen its bond with the UAE.

In recent months, the United States has increasingly pressed Arab nations to strengthen ties with Iraq's government.

Iraq and the Emirates have taken steps to improve diplomatic relations. One month ago, the Emirati foreign minister, Abdallah bin Zayid al-Nuhayyan, visited Baghdad. His trip to Iraq was the first by an Emirati top diplomat since the end of Saddam Hussein's reign in 2003.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said it is clear that the UAE is making a strategic effort to build its relationship with Iraq.

He said he believes this stronger relationship will be beneficial for both sides.

Dabbagh added that Iraq is looking to the UAE for assistance in projects to provide services to Iraqis, and he emphasized that his nation is also looking forward to deepening ties with other Arabian countries.

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