Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah in Riyadh late Monday as she continued Middle East talks aimed at solidifying Arab support behind Iraq's struggling government. Rice says the United States and its traditional Arab allies share the risk and responsibility if President Bush's new strategy for Iraq fails. VOA's David Gollust reports from Riyadh.
Rice flew to Saudi Arabia after meeting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in the historic Nile River city of Luxor. She'll continue the outreach effort in Kuwait Tuesday and talks with foreign ministers of the six Gulf Cooperation Council member states along with those from Egypt and Jordan.
The Secretary is seeking support for President Bush's new Iraq strategy from mainly Sunni-Muslim allies skeptical about the Shiite-dominated Iraqi coalition government and concerned, like the United States, about Iran's more assertive role in Iraq.
At a joint news conference in Luxor with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Rice said it is not only the United States which stands to lose, if the Bush plan including a surge in U.S. troops to try to pacify Baghdad, ends in failure:
"We share risk and responsibility because this is an area of the world which will very much be affected by how Iraq turns out," said Condoleezza Rice. "And the point that the President [Bush] was making was that our friends here, particularly those who we believe share a common interest, and in fact common views, of what we need to do in support of Lebanon, in support of an Iraq that is for all Iraqis, where Sunni, Shia and Kurds have equal treatment in Iraq."
Rice met Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman late Sunday and was told, according to Jordanian officials, that Iraqi political reconciliation would fail if Iraqi Sunnis, who dominated the country during the rule of Saddam Hussein, are shut out of the decision-making process.
She got a similar message from her Egyptian counterpart. Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, heard through an interpreter, said Egypt is prepared to support the Bush strategy provided Iraq makes constitutional changes insuring a fair share of power for Sunnis, and moves against sectarian militias committing much of the recent violence:
"This must be dealt with," said Aboul Gheit. "We have to finish off the presence of militias on the ground. Also, we have to work to convince and persuade all segments of the Iraqi society and the various Iraqi political organizations to join the political process. I hope and I trust that all of this is a part of the plan. If that happens through constitutional amendments, this will encourage all of us and will allow us to achieve this strategy."
Sunni Arab backing for U.S. Iraq policy was shaken by the chaotic hanging of Saddam Hussein two weeks ago, and Rice and top aides are apprehensive about a similar backlash after graphic details of the execution of two more senior figures of the former regime were revealed Monday.
Rice said it is important to recall that there were many victims of Saddam Hussein's reign but that the executions should have been handled in a more dignified way:
"The decisions concerning the execution of Saddam Hussein and the two defendants today obviously were made according to Iraqi processes and Iraqi law," she said. "I would be the first to say that we were disappointed that there was not greater dignity given to the accused under these circumstances. I think that passions run high after years of turmoil under dictatorship, and that is apparently what happened. But it shouldn't have happened and I think that it did not reflect well on the Iraqi government that it came out that way."
Rice's appeals for Arab support on Iraq have been met with calls for intensified U.S. efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
The Secretary, who met Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the first leg of her current mission, was able to claim at least a minor breakthrough on that front.
She announced that the Israeli and Palestinian leaders had agreed to meet jointly with her in the region sometime within the next three or four weeks for an informal meeting on what a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict would entail. It would be the first discussion by the parties on the so-called final status issues, including among others, borders and refugees, since the Camp David meetings brokered by former President Clinton at the end of his term in 2000.