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Rice congratulates Iraq 's Chalabi on political comeback

Published: 5/4/2005

WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a congratulatory phone call to Ahmed Chalabi, who assumed a top post in Iraq 's new government after earlier falling from US grace, officials said Wednesday.

Rice phoned Chalabi, the deputy prime minister, and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari on Tuesday, the day Iraq 's interim government was sworn in, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

Boucher said Rice spoke to Chalabi "to recognize, first of all, the place that he's taken in the government and to congratulate him on that, but also to discuss some of the issues still facing the government."

Chalabi, who vehemently opposed the regime of Saddam Hussein from exile, was once a Pentagon favorite who provided volunteers for the embryo of an Iraqi force during the 2003 US-led invasion.

But he fell out of US favor amid charges last year that he traded US intelligence to Iran . He also faces a jail sentence handed down in absentia by a Jordanian court for embezzling bank funds in 1992.

Chalabi bounced back as a faction leader in the United Iraqi Alliance, the biggest bloc in the Iraqi assembly elected in January. In addition to deputy prime minister he has temporarily taken over the key oil prtfolio.

Boucher refused to be drawn into comment on Chalabi's past or present relations with the United States and sidestepped a question on what Washington thought of the Iraqi politician.

"We have respect for the members of the Iraqi government and want to work with them in furthering the common cause of establishing an independent and democratic Iraqi nation," Boucher said.

05/04/2005 20:10 GMT