By YOCHI J. DREAZEN
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the U.S. would push the United Nations to lift the sanctions imposed on Iraq after its 1991 invasion of Kuwait, a move that could save Baghdad billions of dollars.
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Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, left, with Barack Obama at a press conference at the White House on Wednesday.
Eliminating the sanctions would be a diplomatic victory for Mr. Maliki's government and a milestone in Iraq's quest to rejoin the international community after decades of isolation under ousted leader Saddam Hussein.
Appearing with Mr. Maliki in the White House's Rose Garden, Mr. Obama said he would push the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to lift the so-called Chapter 7 sanctions on Iraq, which force the country to pay 5% of its oil revenues to Kuwait as reparations for the 1991 Gulf War.
"It would be a mistake for Iraq to continue to be burdened by the sins of a deposed dictator," Mr. Obama said.
The meeting between the two leaders came as Washington works to redefine its relationship with Baghdad in the wake of last month's U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq's cities and the intensifying Iraqi effort to assert full control over the country.
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Mr. Obama played down the complaints by some U.S. military officials in Iraq that Baghdad had placed too many restrictions on American forces after they left Iraq's cities on June 30.
The president also said the U.S. would honor its promise to withdraw all of its forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, though he acknowledged that there would "be some tough days ahead" as militants try to take advantage of the drawdown to reignite Iraq's sectarian bloodshed.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Maliki both said they would work to lift the U.N. sanctions. Iraqi officials complain that the measure forces Baghdad to give Kuwait money that could better be used to rebuild Iraq's shattered infrastructure.
Violence Ahead of Maliki U.S. Talks
A wave of deadly bombings in Baghdad precedes Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama. Video courtesy of Reuters.
Earlier this week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told a small gathering of reporters here that Iraq was sending Kuwait roughly $100 million a month because of the sanctions. He said Baghdad hoped the world body would get rid of the sanctions by the end of the summer.
Eliminating the sanctions won't be easy. The move would have to be approved by the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, as well as by Kuwait.
At a briefing Tuesday night, a senior Obama administration official said Washington hadn't yet formally asked Kuwait to sign off on lifting the sanctions. "It's a complex issue," he said.
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