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Bush appoints Baker envoy on Iraqi debt

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

James Baker
James Baker

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Friday named former Secretary of State James A. Baker III as his personal envoy to lead an effort to convince countries to forgive or restructure an estimated $100 billion in debts owed by Iraq.

"The future of the Iraqi people should not be mortgaged to the enormous burden of debt incurred to enrich Saddam Hussein's regime," Bush said in a written statement.

The Iraqi Governing Council immediately welcomed the announcement and said reducing Iraq's debt is critical to its political transition.

The White House said Baker's experience as secretary of state and as treasury secretary -- as well as his personal relationships with key world leaders and diplomats -- made him an ideal choice for the delicate effort.

Baker is a longtime Bush family associate, and served as secretary of state in the administration of President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father. He was a Bush campaign point person during the 2000 presidential election recount in Florida.

Baker will travel extensively in the new post, which is a volunteer position. He will maintain his home in Houston but also have access to office space at the White House complex when necessary, the White House said.

"Secretary Baker will report directly to me and will lead an effort to work with the world's governments at the highest levels, with international organizations and with the Iraqis in seeking the restructuring and reduction of Iraq's official debt," Bush said in the statement released by the White House.

"This debt endangers Iraq's long-term prospects for political health and economic prosperity. The issue of Iraq's debt must be resolved in a manner that is fair and does not unjustly burden a struggling nation at its moment of hope and promise," he said.

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