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Rice to Push Sunni Arabs on Iraq Ties


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice joins delegates from about 100 countries and organizations Thursday at a conference in Stockholm aimed at reinforcing Iraq's security and economy. She will push for greater support for Iraq's Shiite-led coalition government among its Sunni-Arab neighbors. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The review meeting of the International Conference with Iraq (ICI) will attract an impressive roster of diplomats from major world powers and neighboring countries of Iraq.

However U.S. officials want the participants to do more than just attend meetings of the support grouping, by among other things reducing Iraq's debts and setting up diplomatic posts in Baghdad.

Although some key Sunni Arab states, notably Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have expressed their intention to have full relations with the government of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, no ambassador from any Sunni-led Arab country has been stationed permanently in Baghdad since 2005.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey told reporters Wednesday one of Secretary Rice's objectives in Stockholm will be to persuade Arab states to back up their expressed good intentions toward Iraq with action:

"Part of what we have done through the neighbors process, through the Iraq Compact, and other arrangements is try to expand the involvement and engagement of the neighboring states with Iraq in terms of everything from establishing embassies and putting diplomats in the country to expanding the commercial and economic ties to supporting the political process, working with them on security," he said. "And I think a lot has happened but certainly there's a lot more than can be done."

Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki will chair the Stockholm meeting along with U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon.

Iran, which has attended several Iraq neighbors functions, is to be represented by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and Syria is also expected to participate though possibly not at the ministerial level.

Officials here say Rice plans no meetings or other interaction with delegates of Syria and Iran, both of which have been accused by the United States of being unhelpful on Iraqi security issues and in Lebanon.

Thursday's conference is a follow-up to the inaugural meeting of the ICI held a year ago in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

At that meeting, officials from more than 60 countries and organizations promised to cancel $30 billion of Iraq's external debt, though the Baghdad government says follow-up on the commitments has been slow.

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