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Blair Calls on Creditor Countries to Reduce Iraqi Debt - 2003-12-18


British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for a sizable cut in Iraq's foreign debt following talks in London with U.S. special envoy James Baker.

The prime minister and the former U.S. secretary of state met for 30 minutes Thursday to discuss Mr. Baker's European tour to seek debt relief for Iraq.

Afterward, Mr. Blair's spokesman said there is a growing consensus among Iraq's creditors for what he called a "substantial reduction" in Iraq's $120 billion foreign debt.

The official said precise figures will emerge from discussions within what is called the Paris Club of 19 Western creditor nations. He said Iraq owes Britain about $2 billion.

Mr. Baker had already visited Paris, Berlin and Rome and has gotten agreement from leaders in all three countries on the need to reduce Iraq's debt burden.

Some observers say the Baker mission appears to have helped repair some of the damage to U.S. relations with France and Germany stemming from their opposition to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

The U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says the capture of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein also helps Mr. Baker's efforts.

"The capture recently of Saddam Hussein is a perfect opportunity for us to pivot a bit and really let the past be the past and move forward to a much better trans-Atlantic future," he said.

Mr. Baker flew on to Moscow after his talks in London. His meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin could be the toughest of his mission. Russia also opposed the invasion and has given no hint of flexibility about the $8 billion it is owed by Iraq.

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