Regional international cooperation to support Iraq must be top priority, Secretary-General tells foreign ministers meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh

SG/SM/10974, IK/571

Following is the text of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's remarks at the foreign ministers meeting on Iraq, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on 4 May:

I thank Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit for hosting this gathering and for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded to each one of us.

It is an honour for me to join you at this important expanded meeting of the Foreign Ministers of Iraq and its neighbours. I very much look forward to continuing and strengthening our common efforts in the months ahead to promote peace, cooperation and well-being in Iraq and the region.

In my recent visit to Baghdad, I witnessed first-hand many of the complex challenges that face Iraq.

Violence continues to take a shocking daily toll on civilian lives.

Large numbers of people are displaced, both within Iraq and beyond the country's borders. I commend Jordan and Syria, in particular, for extending a helping hand to so many Iraqis in need. Two weeks ago, in Geneva, the United Nations held an international conference and successfully mobilized financial and other support to meet the urgent needs of those who have been displaced.

In the face of so much uncertainty, there are also some positive signs. Every day, millions of Iraqis confront the violence in their own way by going about their daily lives. The bomb that exploded inside the Parliament building on 12 April, which killed three people, including one Member of Parliament, was a particularly brazen attack. But, in a show of solidarity, the Parliament convened a "session of defiance" the next day and, under strict security arrangements, continues its work. Important pieces of legislation pertaining to hydrocarbons, revenue sharing and accountability and reconciliation are expected to be discussed in Parliament soon. And the Constitutional Review Committee is discussing the fundamental issues of the State, a process that can be an important vehicle for achieving national reconciliation.

I am strongly committed to having the United Nations do more for Iraq, particularly in areas where the Organization has a comparative advantage, such as political facilitation and humanitarian assistance. Security in Iraq will not be achieved through military means alone. Instead, it requires genuine and concerted efforts to promote national reconciliation, reduce sectarian tension and strengthen national unity, from the mountains of Kurdistan to Baghdad and the lands of the two great rivers, down to Basra and the marshes in the south. Dialogue within Iraq must lead the way, but regional and international support is vital. I urge you all to do your part in denouncing sectarian violence, strengthening bilateral exchange in the region and encouraging national dialogue within Iraq.

It is precisely because of the difficulty and the daily onslaught of violence that committed collaboration is required. Each one of you has a decisive role to play. We must ensure that the decisions and relationships developed here today are supported by proper follow-up mechanisms. The working groups suggested at the 10 March meeting in Baghdad could provide the foundation for focused and tangible work. I am hopeful that this meeting will firmly establish those working groups as a means for robust cooperation and consultation on issues important to all of us. The United Nations will participate in each of the working groups, and we stand ready to support this process in the fullest manner possible.

At the same time, our jobs are not limited to what goes on in the working groups. The launch of the Compact yesterday represents another important step in establishing a mutually reinforcing relationship of support and development between Iraq and the international community. Now the implementation of the Compact and its component parts will commence in earnest, including the political and security elements. This offers an important arena to promote visible, tangible progress.

The effort we are all engaged in today in support of Iraq is a piece of the larger challenge facing the region. The situation in the Middle East is complex and precarious. Iraq and its neighbours have inevitable differences on a number of issues. And, in addition to Iraq, deep mistrust and political stalemate continue to constrain peace in other parts of the region.

This meeting, thus, takes on special significance. You all have a clear common interest in promoting stability in Iraq and in keeping instability from spreading to other countries in the region or even beyond. Iraq and its neighbours are at the centre, but it is incumbent upon others to help, including the permanent members of the Security Council and the members of the G-8.

During my recent travels, the strength that the region has to offer its people and each other has been on full display. I am pleased that we have all come here today in a spirit of strength and wisdom to jointly confront instability and suffering.

More than ever, our words need to be translated into sustained, concrete progress. Regional and international cooperation in support of Iraq must be one of our top priorities. Without it, the reach of the violence may know no boundaries, and the people of Iraq may know no peace. I look forward to working with you in the effort to build a more hopeful future for Iraq and the region.

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