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Biden: Political Rivals Should Resolve Claims to Kirkuk

U.S. Vice President-elect Joe Biden has urged Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen to resolve their claims to Iraq's oil-rich city of Kirkuk peacefully.

Biden spoke Tuesday during a visit to the northern city, where he met with regional leaders and heard their proposals on resolving ethnic tensions. He said solving Kirkuk-related issues is important for the U.S. government.

Kirkuk is at the center of a political conflict, with ethnic Kurds demanding it be added to their autonomous region. The Arabs want the city to remain under central government control, while Turkmen representatives have suggested Kirkuk become its own self-governing region.

The deadlock has led to a postponement of local elections set for elsewhere in Iraq January 31st.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Defense Department issued a report that warned Iran would try to use the Iraqi provincial elections to expand its influence through pro-Iranian parties and candidates. The report said Iran continued to host, train, fund and arm militant groups aiming to destabilize Iraq.

Vice President-elect Biden also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad on Tuesday.

The Iraqi prime minister's office said Biden stressed the importance of cooperation between Baghdad and Washington as both sides implement a status of forces agreement that went into effect the first of the year. The deal calls for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by 2011.

Later on Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mr. Maliki led the first round of top level meetings on the implementation of the security agreement. Rice took part via video conference.

Also on Tuesday, the United Nations said Iraq agreed to comply with an international treaty banning the development, production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons. Iraq is the 186th nation to join the pact. In 1988, then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the country's ethnic Kurds.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.