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US Envoy Solicits Italian Support in Iraq Debt Relief - 2003-12-17


U.S. special envoy James Baker has met with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in his effort to obtain Italy's support for a debt relief program for Iraq. Mr. Baker has already secured a pledge from France and Germany to cooperate in the debt-relief program.

Talks between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the U.S. president's special envoy, James Baker, lasted nearly an hour at government headquarters in Rome. Neither side commented afterward.

The Italian center-right government led by Mr. Berlusconi backed the war against Iraq from the start. Rome sent in troops and aid workers at the end of the war to help in the country's reconstruction.

Earlier this week Mr. Baker visited Berlin and Paris where he met the German and French government leaders. Despite their anger over the U.S. decision to deny Iraqi reconstruction contracts to countries that opposed the war, Mr. Baker managed to obtain support for cooperation from both countries.

The White House issued a statement late Tuesday declaring that France, Germany and the United States agreed that Iraq should get substantial debt reduction. The reduction was not specified and is expected to be the subject to further negotiations between the parties.

Iraq's debt burden amounts to $120 billion, of which one third is owed to the United States, France, Germany, Japan, Russia and other members of the Paris club, an informal association of 19 of the world's leading creditor nations.

The U.S. envoy will also be traveling to Moscow and London to discuss the issue of Iraq's debt. He is also expected to visit Japan, which is Baghdad's largest creditor nation with $4.1 billion.

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