- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2007

NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged U.S. policy-makers yesterday 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 today.

“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 yesterday 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.

Other international critics of the war are also warning that a premature U.S. departure from Iraq could have devastating consequences.

“I hated the Iraq war, [but] a hasty withdrawal would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for U.S. interests,” International Crisis Group analyst Joost Hiltermann said in Washington yesterday. He argued in favor of a regional approach to Iraq’s problems.

Several Arab diplomats and leaders of relief agencies also have warned that Iraq would devolve into chaos with massive casualties if the American troops left too soon.

Mr. Ban also meets today 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 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 such as climate change, U.N. reform and funding for peacekeeping operations.

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

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