updated 7/18/2004 3:04:10 PM ET 2004-07-18T19:04:10

Iraq announced Sunday it would appoint ambassadors to 43 countries in a move designed to normalize relations with other nations just three weeks after the United States handed power to an interim government.

The ambassadors, many of whom would be sent to neighboring Arab countries, would be appointed Monday, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said during a joint news conference with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

Armitage, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country since the June 28 transfer of sovereignty, earlier met with interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and President Ghazi al-Yawer.

The officials discussed security cooperation between the two countries and efforts to have much of Iraq’s nearly $120 billion in debt forgiven, Allawi said.

“We are indebted to the United States for its support and continuing support both in liberating Iraq and reconstructing Iraq,” Allawi said after the meeting.

Armitage said the officials spoke about the security situation, the political process leading to January elections and efforts to rebuild the economy.

“We understand that Iraq’s people need more electricity, more water, more jobs — and we are determined to find ways to help the government meet these needs,” he said.

Earlier in the day Armitage and the U.S. Mideast envoy William Burns met with Kuwait’s deputy prime minister to discuss the war on terror and the situation in Iraq.

“They talked about the views of Kuwait about how things are going in Iraq, bilateral relations and the war on terror,” according to a U.S. Embassy spokesman.

The officials spoke with Sheik Nawwaf Al Ahmed Al Sabah, the interior minister and deputy prime minister.

Kuwait was the launch pad for the war that toppled Saddam Hussein more than a year ago and the small, oil-rich nation fears that instability in Iraq could spill over its borders.

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