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AP | April 2, 2007

Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who helped engineer the US withdrawal from Vietnam, says the problems in Iraq are more complex than that conflict, and military victory is no longer possible.

He also said he sympathises with the troubles facing US President George Bush.

"A 'military victory' in the sense of total control over the whole territory, imposed on the entire population, is not possible," Kissinger told The Associated Press in Tokyo, where he received an honorary degree from Waseda University.

The faceless, ubiquitous nature of Iraq's insurgency, as well as the religious divide between Shi'ite and Sunni rivals, makes negotiating peace more complex, he said.

"It is a more complicated problem," Kissinger said. "The Vietnam War involved states, and you could negotiate with leaders who controlled a defined area."

But Kissinger, an architect of the Vietnam War who has also advised Bush on Iraq, warned that a sudden pullout of US troops or loss of influence could unleash chaos.

"I am basically sympathetic to President Bush," he said. "I am partly sympathetic to it because I have seen comparable situations."

During his tenure under President Richard Nixon, first as national security adviser and then as secretary of state, Kissinger faced a similar challenge in formulating policy for a Vietnam War that was increasingly unpopular at home.

He oversaw a gradual US pullout from Vietnam through a strategy also planned for Iraq, where US troops are training their Iraqi counterparts to take fuller control of security. He also negotiated directly with North Vietnamese leaders on ending the conflict.

Kissinger says the best way forward is to reconcile the differences between Iraq's warring sects with help from other countries. He applauded efforts to host an international conference bringing together the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iraq's neighbours - including Iran, Washington's longtime rival in the region.

"That is the sort of framework out of which it is conceivable that an agreement should emerge," Kissinger said. "One needs to be prepared to negotiate with adversaries."

Kissinger said that fighting in Iraq is likely to continue for years, and that America's national interest requires an end to partisan bickering at home over war policy.

"The role of America in the world cannot be defined by our internal partisan quarrels," he said. "All the leaders, both Republican and Democratic, have to remember that it will go on for several more years and find some basis for common action."

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