Iraq says historic Kuwait visit delayed

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah will visit Iraq after Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, an Iraqi government official said on Sunday.

Sabah and Nuri al-Maliki, his Iraqi counterpart, will discuss reparations for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, debts, and efforts to improve relations between the one-time enemies, said Yasin Majid, media advisor to Maliki.

The visit, which would mark the first high-level Kuwaiti delegation in Baghdad since Iraq under former president Saddam Hussein invaded the tiny Gulf state, had been planned for this week, but was delayed on Sunday, Majid said.

This year, Ramadan concludes around the end of September.

A source in Sabah’s office had earlier said the Kuwaiti prime minister was not planning a trip to Iraq, but no officials were able to confirm if a trip would take place after Ramadan.

As Iraq seeks to rebuild after five years of bloodshed, its government is hoping for reconsideration of the percentage of its oil exports earmarked for a Geneva-based fund set up to settle post-conflict damage claims from the invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq was driven out of Kuwait in 1991 by a U.S.-led coalition. Under U.N.-imposed peace terms, Iraq must pay 5 percent of oil income in reparation to Kuwait and other nations.

Some $24.4 billion in compensation claims had been paid from the U.N. fund as of April, but more than $28 billion remains to be paid, according to the fund’s website.

Yet Kuwait has said that any changes to the reparations scheme must be decided by the U.N. Security Council.

The Iraqi government also announced on Sunday that Finance Minister Bayan Jabor had left for Kuwait for a visit that would include discussion of debt and reparations.

Since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which toppled Saddam, Washington has been pressing its Arab allies to forgive Iraqi debts and to restore high-level diplomatic ties.

In August, Jordan’s King Abdullah became the first Arab leader to visit Iraq since 2003, and other regional countries are taking steps to resume full relations.

Even as violence drops sharply in Iraq, state visits are still usually shrouded in secrecy for security reasons.

On Sunday, Iraq’s national media centre reported that Saudi Arabia would soon open an embassy in Iraq, but did not say when.

Baghdad is also seeking forgiveness of loans Kuwait made to Iraq during its war with Iran in the 1980s — but many in Kuwait are still bitter about the 1990 invasion.

The United Arab Emirates recently waived all of Iraq’s almost $7 billion obligations.

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