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Rice, Iraqi Kurdish Leader Discuss National Reconciliation


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks Friday with Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Region in northern Iraq. The secretary's stop in Irbil was a continuation of her effort to get Iraq's many ethnic, religious and political factions to work out their differences and bring an end to sectarian violence that many fear could drive the country apart.

In a news conference, President Barzani played down the possibility that the largely autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq might break away and become independent of Iraq. He said Kurds have a right to self-determination, but said he is committed to a "federal, democratic, and pluralistic Iraq."

Fears of Kurdish secession rose in recent weeks when the Iraqi flag was banned in government buildings in Kurdistan. Another concern is the bickering among Iraq's ethnic groups over the details of distributing the nation's oil wealth, some of which comes from Kurdistan.

Barzani did not repeat recent assertions that Kurdistan alone should control new contracts and business arrangements for oil pumped in the region. Instead he said all of Iraq should have a share of the revenues.

"As for the oil revenues, as it has been stipulated in the constitution, we are for a fair distribution of oil revenues for all of Iraq," he said.

Secretary of State Rice thanked Mr. Barzani for the Kurds' long cooperation with the United States, and said she appreciates his participation in the process of national reconciliation.

She also reported progress in efforts to quell the activities of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, known as the PKK. The group recently declared a cease-fire in its long fight with authorities in neighboring Turkey. Both Washington and the Turkish government say the PKK is a terrorist group. Rice said she is counting on Iraq's Kurds to help resolve the long-standing dispute.

"Everyone needs to play a role, Kurds need to play a role, the Iraqis need to play a role, Turkey needs to play a role,"

she said.

Rice's Iraq visit is intended to show Washington's support for Iraq's central government, which is under pressure to do more to stop the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite Arabs.

A U.S. military spokesman recently said the number of bombs found in Baghdad had hit an all time high.

Rice's stop in Irbil follows talks in Baghdad where she urged Iraq's political leaders to work out their differences.