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Annan Calls on US to Lift Restrictions in Iraqi Contracts - 2003-12-11

The United Nations secretary-general, Kofi Annan, called on Washington Thursday to lift its restrictions on countries allowed to bid for contracts to help rebuild the country. Mr. Annan met Thursday with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

Mr. Annan said he believes the U.S. decision to restrict Iraqi contracts to countries in the coalition will damage international relations and affect Iraq's future stability. He said he hopes the U.S. government will take the necessary steps to lift the ban.

"It is up to those who took the decision to reverse it or maintain it, and I hope something will be done about it," he said. "I think the decision was unfortunate. I believe it is time we tried to rebuild international consensus and work together and pool our efforts to stabilize Iraq."

Mr. Annan called for 'unifying' actions, rather than what he called 'divisive' ones. Many experts in Europe believe the U.S. decision on Iraqi contracts has renewed tensions over the war, which were just beginning to ease. This comes as the United States is urging European countries to ease Iraq's foreign debt burden.

Chancellor Schroeder echoed Mr. Annan's comments, saying the decision made little sense. He maintained reconstruction in post-war Iraq is a task for all.

With the ban in place, only companies from countries that supported the U.S.-led campaign to remove Saddam Hussein are allowed to bid for the estimated $18.6-billion worth of contracts. Germany, France and Russia were the main opponents of the war, and their companies would be excluded. All have expressed their objections to the U.S. plan, as did the European Union's executive body in Brussels. The EU said it would investigate whether the U.S. policy violates international trade rules.

President Bush rejected the European criticism on Thursday, saying American taxpayers expect that only companies from countries that sent people to risk their lives in Iraq should benefit from reconstruction contracts, and that is what will happen.