Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met top Saudi leaders Sunday to inaugurate a new strategic dialogue with the U.S. Gulf ally. The talks focused on Iraq, the war against terrorism, and efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The strategic dialogue was set up earlier this year to give the two sides an opportunity to discuss problem issues in detail, and it appeared that the day of meetings helped ease concerns among the Saudis about U.S. policy in Iraq.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who drew headlines with a comment in September that Iraq was heading for disintegration, told reporters at a joint press appearance with Ms. Rice that he no longer fears the possibility of civil war in Iraq.
He also reaffirmed his government's intention to provide $1 billion in Iraqi reconstruction aid.
The Saudi foreign minister also defended his government's record on fighting terrorism, while publicly prodding the Bush administration to step up efforts to promote an Israel-Palestinian peace accord.
He said continuation of the Middle East conflict helps terrorists justify their actions among the younger generation in Arab societies.
"Certainly the continuation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict helps in giving, allowing the terrorists, to justify their actions in the eyes of some young people who do not have a full knowledge of the situation and who are still in the formative years of their development," he said. "Terrorism of that sort cannot be condoned under any circumstances. But it does give justification and it allows their recruitment. And in that fact alone, it behooves us to do everything we can to remove that."
Secretary Rice, whose next stop on her Middle East itinerary was Jerusalem for talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials, said the United States was not seeking Middle East peace because of terrorism, but because it will be good for the parties and for the region.
"It ought to be resolved because Palestinians deserve a better life and Israelis deserve a better life," she said. "That's why it ought to be resolved. And that's why we are working as hard as we can to try and build on what has happened with the disengagement of Israeli forces and Israeli settlements from Gaza, that's why we believe that the road map is a reliable guide to a two-state solution, that is why we press both sides to live up to their obligations under that road map, because the Middle East will most certainly be a much better place when there is a Palestinian state, a democratic Palestinian state, living side by side in peace with Israel."
Under questioning, Ms. Rice said there is broad agreement among the international community that Syria must cooperate fully with the U.N. investigation into the killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.
She said she had not seen such cooperation yet, but rather, she said, a lot of Syrian criticism of the process and of the investigation by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis.
Such a Syrian approach, Ms. Rice said, is unsatisfactory, "is not going to cut it," and that Syria ought to fully cooperate with the investigation, rather than trying to negotiate over what it might be prepared to do.