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US Welcomes Prospect of Arab Peacekeepers in Iraq - 2004-07-02

The State Department said Friday it views as a "positive sign" the possibility that at least two Arab countries might contribute peacekeeping troops to Iraq. Both Jordan and Yemen have publicly suggested they may be prepared to take part in security operations.

The Bush administration has been working hard to try to enlist Muslim, and especially Arab, countries to join in Iraq peacekeeping operations. Although neither Jordan nor Yemen has made firm commitments to send troops, their expressed willingness to consider such a step drew an immediate welcome from the State Department.

In a talk with reporters, Deputy State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli said neither Jordan nor Yemen had discussed their intentions with the United States, but that their interest in helping bolster security in Iraq is commendable:

"We certainly commend both countries for their offers of assistance," Mr. Ereli said. "We've long said that it's important that the international community do what it can to support Iraq, and the interim Iraqi government as it moves to establish security and democratize. Obviously, it's up to each country to determine what it can do. But the fact that Iraq's neighbors are moving in this direction is certainly something that's positive."

Jordan's King Abdullah said in a BBC interview Thursday that if Iraq's newly sovereign interim government asked Jordan to commit troops, then it would be "very difficult" for his government to say no.

However, Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher later told reporters King Abdullah's comments should be seen as a statement of support for the new Baghdad government rather than an announcement of a pending deployment.

Jordan has played host to the training of hundreds of officers for Iraq's new security forces. But Mr. Muasher said he did not think Iraqi authorities would want armies from neighboring states on its soil.

A U.S.-backed plan for Turkey to commit peacekeeping troops to Iraq last year was scuttled by opposition from members of the now-defunct Iraqi Governing Council, who objected to the prospect of Turkish troops in Kurdish areas of northern Iraq.

Officials of Yemen's foreign ministry were quoted Friday as saying that country would be willing to send troops to Iraq, but only if they serve under a United Nations mandate and under the control of the world body.

The U.N. Security Council resolution approved earlier this month endorsing the formation of the Iraqi interim government called for creation of a distinct unit within the U.S.-led multinational force to protect United Nations personnel and operations in Iraq.

U.S. officials are hoping that Monday's transfer of sovereignty to the interim government will prompt countries previously reluctant to commit troops to Iraq to reconsider and provide soldiers, if not to the broader American-commanded force, then to the U.N.-protection unit.