July 31st, 2007 14:57 EST
Mideast Peace, Arab Leaders Renew Support for Iraq
Washington – Arab leaders meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Defense Robert Gates in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, July 31 agreed to continue aiding Iraqis and expressed support for intensified U.S. efforts toward a comprehensive Palestinian-Israeli peace.
Rice and Gates urged Gulf Cooperation Council members Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, joined by representatives from Egypt and Jordan, to help the United States convince Iraq’s Sunnis to continue seeking political reconciliation with the Shia-majority government.
“All parties need to really now throw their weight behind this effort at national reconciliation that the Iraqi leaders are trying to carry out,” Rice said July 31 in a joint press appearance with Egyptian Foreign Minster Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Rice cited Egypt’s diplomatic support to Iraq, as well as Saudi Arabia’s moves toward canceling Iraq’s Saddam-era debts, tightening control of its border to prevent militants from crossing into Iraq and appeals to tribal authorities to support the Iraqi government.
“We have the same interest in a stable Iraq that can defend itself, defend its new political system, its new democratic political system and be unified,” Rice said July 30 en route to the conference. “We have the same interests and we’re pursuing them.”
Following the meeting, Arab leaders issued a joint statement reiterating their pledge at the Iraq Neighbors’ Conference earlier in 2007 of noninterference in Iraq’s internal affairs. (See related article.)
Rice rejected criticism that an arms package announced July 30 for Saudi Arabia and five other Gulf States, as well as Israel and Egypt, is a trade-off for assistance at a key diplomatic juncture. (See related article.)
“This isn’t an issue of quid pro quo,” Rice said. “We are working with these states to fight back extremism and to give a chance to the forces of moderation and reform.”
She added that along with the security assistance, the United States would encourage regional allies to continue making progress on political reforms.
“We continue to discuss and press for reform and democratic reform because it is our strong belief that that is ultimately – in and of itself will be a stabilizing factor in the Middle East when you have more open political systems,” Rice said.
Arab governments also welcomed President Bush’s July 16 announcement of a renewed effort to jump-start the Middle East peace process by encouraging bilateral talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and its plan to convene an international peace conference later in 2007. (See related article.)
“A two-state solution can come whenever the conditions are ripe for it, whenever the groundwork has been laid for it, and when Palestinians and Israelis can come to agreement on what that state will look like,” Rice said.
Transcripts of Rice’s press briefing en route to the conference and remarks with Gheit are available on the State Department Web site.
For more information, see Middle East and North Africa.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer