- The Washington Times - Monday, July 16, 2007

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged U.S. policy-makers today to exercise “great caution” in considering any rapid withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq.

“It is not my place to inject myself into this discussion taking place between the American people, government and congress,” said Mr. Ban, who was expected to repeat the message during meetings on Capitol Hill tomorrow.

“But I’d like to tell you that a great caution should be taken for the sake of the Iraqi people,” he said at a U.N. press conference. “Any abrupt withdrawal or decision may lead to a further deterioration.”

Mr. Ban’s visit to Washington comes as Congress debates a number of measures aimed at forcing the Bush administration to begin winding down its troop involvement in Iraq.

Senate Democratic leaders said today they are close to securing enough Republican support to pass a measure calling for a troop withdrawal to begin by the end of the year.

Mr. Ban also meets tomorrrow with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who are expected to ask the secretary-general to beef up the U.N. presence in Iraq. They would like the world body to do more to address the country’s humanitarian needs and to support its fragile government.

Mr. Ban said he also plans to brief the Americans on a U.N. timetable for installing a hybrid African-international peacekeeping force in Darfur, a priority for both the international organization and the Bush administration.

The White House last month announced new sanctions against members of the Sudanese government, complicating negotiations among Security Council members on a resolution authorizing the deployment.

African soldiers are expected to form the bulk of the Darfur force, but Western technical, logistical and financial support will be necessary to get the effort off the ground.

Mr. Ban said the U.S. contribution “would be immensely important,” but declined to be more specific about U.S. involvement.

Mr. Ban, who just returned from two weeks in Europe and Afghanistan, also told reporters he is “deeply concerned” about a stalemate in the Security Council over whether to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state.

The United States and Russia have locked horns over the issue, and Mr. Ban said the lack of progress “will have a very negative impact not only on Kosovo but in the wider region.”

The Bush administration has indicated it might move to recognize Kosovar independence with or without the Security Council, a move that would enrage Moscow and possibly encourage other separatist movements.

Mr. Ban said no party should “take premature unilateral action on Kosovo.”

Mr. Ban, who will be accompanied in Washington by his political adviser and chief of strategic planning, also expects to discuss issues as varied as climate change, U.N. reform, and funding for peacekeeping operations.

Mr. Ban will travel to San Francisco at the end of July to discuss global warming with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and speak to foreign policy groups.

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