Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Sunni Muslims in Iraq will have an ample opportunity to influence the country's political future despite their vote against the country's new constitution. Ms. Rice spoke in Ottawa after talks with Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew that also covered the alleged Syrian role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Iraqi Sunnis voted against the draft constitution by a broad margin, though they failed to achieve the two-thirds vote in three provinces needed to defeat the document.
At her news conference here, Ms. Rice said the "no" votes were still an exercise in democracy and said that in upcoming elections for an Iraqi national assembly, and ensuing debate on constitutional amendments, Sunnis will still be able to shape the country's political life.
Under questioning, the Secretary insisted that the huge 96 percent "no" vote in the country's central Anbar province, a Sunni stronghold, does not necessarily bode ill for the future.
"I hope it's understood in Anbar province that there's now a process by which, if there are differences about the constitution, there's still time to amend it," said Ms. Rice. "But also there are very important decisions about how certain principles enshrined in the constitution are actually going to be carried out, what laws are going to govern the implementation of those principles. That's going to be the work of the coming assembly."
Ms. Rice said Iraqi Kurds and Shi'ite Muslims did not "press their advantage" in the constitution drafting process and provided for an amendment mechanism, giving Sunnis a chance to reshape the document.
The Secretary and her Canadian counterpart also discussed possible United Nations action against Syria in the wake of the report by U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis implicating Syrian security officials in the Harari assassination last April.
She said Syrian authorities, which have dismissed the report as political, need to understand the degree of international concern about the case:
"They should not, as they have been so far, be dismissive of this Mehlis report. The attitude of the Syrian government toward the Mehlis report should be one that they recognize that the international community expects them to take it seriously and cooperate," added Ms. Rice.
Ms. Rice also said the Syrians need to understand that no one will tolerate efforts at intimidation of the Lebanese in response to the report, comments supported by the Canadian Foreign Minister, Mr. Pettigrew.
"The international community is now seized with a situation that is going to be challenging to us," said Mr. Pettigrew. "We have to react to the revelations of that report and we certainly want Syria to collaborate with the United Nations on this. We need to know what really took place in this situation."
Ms. Rice's Canada visit, her first since taking office, came amid a background of tension over border and trade issues including an angry dispute over Canadian lumber exports to the United States.
Canada claims the United States illegally collected more than $3 billion in tariffs on lumber exports that U.S. officials say were unfairly subsidized by Canada.
There appeared to be no tangible progress made on the issue during the Secretary's brief visit, though both Ms. Rice and her Canadian counterpart said they are confident the issue can be resolved.