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Rice to travel to Arab Gulf for talks on Iraq, Mideast peace: official


AFP: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Gulf Arab states this month for meetings aimed at stabilizing Iraq and bolstering the Arab-Israeli peace talks, her spokesman said Wednesday. WASHINGTON (AFP) — US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Gulf Arab states this month for meetings aimed at stabilizing Iraq and bolstering the Arab-Israeli peace talks, her spokesman said Wednesday.

Rice is due in Bahrain on April 21 to meet the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) composed of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

“I would expect they’d talk a lot about Iraq,” her spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters without elaborating.

Rice will also discuss with her Arab counterparts “the importance of Arab states supporting” the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations launched at an international conference in the United States last November.

Egypt and Jordan as well as all of the GCC states — except Kuwait — were represented at the peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

“You’re going to need the support of all the states in the region who of course have interest in seeing the Israelis and the Palestinians bridge those differences,” McCormack said.

Rice will then attend an international conference in Kuwait on April 22 to promote Iraq’s economy, security and diplomatic ties, the State Department spokesman said.

The conference will be attended by Iraq’s Arab and non-Arab neighbors Iran and Turkey, UN Security Council permanent members including the United States and other Group of Eight leading industrial nations.

Iran said it will attend the gathering that was first was held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt in May last year and held again in Istanbul, Turkey in November, but did not say who it would send.

Asked if Rice would be open to talks with the Iranian envoy, McCormack said no meeting was scheduled but noted she had informal “interaction” with her Iranian counterpart in Istanbul.

The State Department said participants will likely receive reports from three working groups on border security, energy, and refugees which will have all met twice since they were created in Egypt.

It said the border security group, which met in August in Damascus, will meet again in the Syrian capital on April 13, with the United States represented by someone from the US embassy in Damascus or perhaps Washington.

McCormack said Iraq’s development has also been aided by the cancelation of Iraqi debt by the United States and other members of the Paris Club as well as by those outside the club and commercial creditors.

“Over the past three years, Iraq’s debt has been reduced by 66.5 billion dollars,” his office said in a follow-up statement.

McCormack also reiterated US calls for more Arab diplomatic representation in Baghdad that is has been limited by security concerns and “tensions between some of the neighboring states and the new Iraqi government.”

“You have had several pledges by neighboring states to name ambassadors and to either open or reopen diplomatic missions in Baghdad. We continue to press on that issue,” McCormack said.

Testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee here Tuesday, US Ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker welcomed Bahrain’s announcement to send an ambassador to Baghdad, adding “other Arab states should follow suit.”

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