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    Rice Says Failure of Iraqi Security Plan Would Endanger Region

    U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said late Friday the consequences of the failure of President Bush's new security strategy for Iraq would be worse for Iraq's neighbors than for the United States itself. She is beginning a Middle East mission aimed in part at rallying moderate Arab support for the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. VOA's David Gollust reports from Shannon, Ireland, a refueling stop for Rice en route to the region.

    President Bush has much at stake politically in the success of his new Iraq security strategy, which includes a surge in U.S. troop strength to try to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad.

    But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says moderate Arab states in the Gulf region have even more to lose if Iraq dissolves into chaos where Iranian-backed extremists have the upper hand.

    In a talk with reporters on the first leg of her flight to the Middle East, Rice said a priority of the trip is to persuade U.S. Arab allies to assist the Iraqi coalition government by upgrading diplomatic representation and otherwise helping Iraq reintegrate with the rest of the region.

    "The commitment to this new democratic government in Iraq should be one that all these states are prepared to take, because if the consequences of failure for the United States are very great, the consequences of failure for these states in the region are even greater," she said. "And when I hear the argument from time to time that people are concerned about Iranian influence in Iraq, the surest way to deal with Iranian influence is to have a unified and strong Iraq that is able to integrate with, and is able to be supported by, its Arab neighbors."

    Under questioning, Rice said she did not think her diplomatic hand has been weakened by the intense criticism she encountered during Congressional testimony Thursday on the Iraq security plan or by the administration's low standing in opinion polls.

    She said she had heard skepticism from Senate and House committee members, but not alternatives to the Bush strategy that one could really pursue. She said what is needed now is an aggressive, sustained U.S. diplomatic effort in the Middle East on both Iraq and on stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

    She spoke of the need to accelerate the international road map to a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, originally intended as a three-year process, but offered no new time frame.

    Rice's Middle East mission, her third since October, begins with meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders and continues with stops in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where she meets foreign minister colleagues from the Gulf Cooperation council.

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