1st LD Writethru: Kerry arrives Baghdad for talks with Iraqi leaders: TV
BAGHDAD, June 23 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Monday for talks with Iraqi leaders on the Iraqi crisis as the country is trying to curb a Sunni blitzkrieg, an official television reported.
While in Baghdad, Kerry will meet with the outgoing Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, and discuss with him the political and security situations in the country, the state-run channel of Iraqiya said.
Kerry is also expected to meet with the Parliament Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, and the leading Shiite cleric Ammar al- Hakim, as well as other Iraqi officials, before he travel to Arbil, capital of the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan to meet with the Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani, according to local media reports.
Kerry's visit is part of a tour in the Middle East to consult with U.S. partners and allies on measures to support security, stability, and the formation of an inclusive government in Iraq, as well as other developments in the region.
The top U.S. diplomat's visit to the country came amid a worsening security conditions that began less than two weeks ago when armed Sunni insurgents, spearheaded by an al-Qaida splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, launched a surprise offensive that led to the debacle of Iraqi security forces, and the fallen of a large part of the country's northern and western territories.
Kerry would discuss U.S. actions to assist Iraq as it confronts the security threat, and urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible with its government formation process to forge a government that "represents the interests of Iraqis," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
On Sunday, Kerry said in Cairo at the end of his visit to Egypt that the United States "would not pick or choose" who rules in Baghdad, adding that Washington had noted the dissatisfaction among Kurds, Sunnis and some Shiites with the current Iraqi leadership.
He also said that the United States wanted Iraqis to "find a leadership that was prepared to be inclusive and share power."
The Shiite-led government has urged the United States to raid the jihadists with air strikes, while the Obama administration so far only agreed to a plan of limited military support. Washington also urged Iraq to form a more inclusive government to quell a Sunni insurgency.
Later on, Kerry will travel to Brussels to participate in a NATO foreign ministers' meeting.