AFP: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended a regional tour Wednesday after gaining a firm Arab stance calling on Iran not to meddle in Iraq and support for the Bush administration’s new Iraq strategy. by Sylvie Lanteaume
KUWAIT CITY, Jan 17, 2007 (AFP) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended a regional tour Wednesday after gaining a firm Arab stance calling on Iran not to meddle in Iraq and support for the Bush administration’s new Iraq strategy.
Rice concluded her tour by meeting the foreign ministers of the “GCC+2” group of US allies — the six members of Gulf Cooperation Council with Egypt and Jordan — who called on Iraq’s neighbours to respect its sovereignty.
“With respect to US policy towards Iran… the US and the Gulf (States) expressed in (a) joint communique that we call to all countries to refrain from interfering in Iraqi internal affairs,” Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Sabah told a joint news conference with Rice after Tuesday’s talks.
“That is something that we are all concerned about. We would like the neighbouring countries to work together for peace and stability in Iraq,” he said.
The joint communique did not mention Iran by name, but said that relations among countries “should be based on mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, and on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations.”
The two sides said they wanted to prevent Iraq “becoming a battleground for regional and international powers,” which could also refer to Syria which has been repeatedly accused by the Washington of fueling Iraq’s insurgency.
Rice held brief talks with her Kuwaiti counterpart on Wednesday before she was due to leave the emirate.
The US secretary of state was on a regional tour aimed at drumming up support for President George W. Bush’s “surge” strategy to tackle violence in Iraq by deploying an additional 21,500 troops there.
She was also seeking financial aid from the oil-rich Gulf countries for the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, chiefly by writing off debts.
“The participants welcomed the commitment by the United States, as stated in President Bush’s recent speech, to defend the security of the Gulf, the territorial integrity of Iraq, and to ensure a successful, fair and inclusive political process that engages all Iraqi communities,” the joint statement said.
“We expressed our desire to see the president’s plan to reinforce the American military presence in Baghdad as a vehicle… to stabilize Baghdad and to prevent Iraq from sliding into this ugly war,” the Kuwaiti foreign minister said.
Rice earlier received cautious Saudi backing for Bush’s last-ditch strategy for Iraq.
“We agree with the objectives” of the US plan to bring peace to the war-torn country, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a joint news conference with Rice in Riyadh Tuesday.
But he was cautious about how this could be achieved.
“We cannot comment on the means that will be applied… We’re hoping that these objectives will be implemented, but the means are not in our hands. They are in the hands of the Iraqis,” he said.
Rice praised Saudi Arabia’s role in “urging national reconciliation” in Iraq, and welcomed a greater Arab engagement in efforts to reunify the Iraqis.
“If the Arab League is prepared to go forward with a reconciliation conference, that will also be very useful to the Iraqis,” she said.
The secretary of state turned her attention to Iraq and the Gulf after focusing on reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process during the first part of her regional tour that began at the weekend.
She admitted that Iraq’s predominantly Sunni Arab neighbours were skeptical about the ability of Maliki’s Shiite government to halt the sectarian violence that has pitted Sunni Arabs against Shiites.
“There are concerns about whether the Maliki government is prepared to take an even-handed, non-sectarian path… but everybody wants to give this a chance.
That is the position of the people in the region and there is in fact a burden on the Iraqi government to perform,” Rice told reporters after arriving in Kuwait.
The joint statement stressed the need to dismantle militias in Iraq and expressed the hope that Maliki’s government will “actively engage all components of the Iraqi people in a real political process and act in a manner that ensures inclusiveness.”
The US plan, revealed last week, has come under fire in many Arab capitals, even among staunch allies in the Gulf. Critics call it a recipe for more sectarian violence in Iraq that could spread elsewhere in the region.
But Rice on Monday won support from Cairo after meeting with President Hosni Mubarak in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor.