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Rice Presses Gulf Arab States for Support on Iraq


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Gulf region, trying to persuade America's Arab allies to actively support President Bush's new strategy for quelling violence in Iraq. The mainly Sunni Muslim Gulf states want stronger protections for Iraq's once-dominant Sunni minority. VOA's David Gollust reports from Kuwait.

Rice is hearing general statements of support of the Bush plan from Gulf leaders. But they are making clear they want to see promises of an inclusive government in Baghdad, backed up by tangible action - including new constitutional amendments to assure that disgruntled Iraq Sunnis have a real share of power.

The secretary of state discussed the Iraq plan privately with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, late Monday, and flew here to meet the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, along with those of Egypt and Jordan - the so-called G.C.C. Plus Two grouping of Arab moderates.

At a news conference with Rice in Riyahd, before the secretary left for Kuwait Tuesday, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said his government supports the objectives of the Bush plan and wants to see the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government deal with all sources of violence in the country, without discrimination or bias.

Although Saudi Arabia is reported to have threatened to intervene on behalf of Iraqi Sunnis, in the event of uncontrolled Shiite militia violence, Prince al-Faisal would not discuss such reports at the media event. He said speculation about worst-case scenarios for Iraq serves the interests of no one's interest.

"The advantages of a solution and a settlement for Iraq, which is an old and historic country with a civilization that goes back thousands of years…I cannot for the life of me conceive that a country like that would commit suicide, given the goodwill and desire of all to help in this, and I hope that your dire speculation will not come about," he said.

For her part, Rice said the Bush administration is prepared to help the Baghdad government restore order by augmenting the American troop presence and boosting reconstruction aid. But she says the principal burden rests with Iraqi authorities and that she is confident in the determination of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other members of the coalition government to do what is needed.

"I really do believe that he and the other Iraqi leaders very much want to build a unified Iraq, but there is much work to do in order to do that," she said. "There has to be a real effort at the national reconciliation plan that was announced some time ago. There has to be a real effort to deal with the security situation particularly in Baghdad in an even-handed fashion so that all Iraqi citizens feel protected by their government. "

Rice urged Saudi Arabia and other wealthy Gulf states to support Iraq through debt relief, upgraded diplomatic ties and in other way, through the informal Iraq Compact grouping that held its first meeting of the sidelines if the U.N. General Assembly last September.

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