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Rice Heading to Egypt for Iraq Meetings

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves Washington late Tuesday for Egypt and two critical international meetings on Iraq's future, to be attended by, among others Iran and Syria. U.S. officials do not rule out interaction between Rice and her Iranian and Syrian counterparts. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here stress that the meetings are not about U.S. contacts with Iran and Syria, but the future of Iraq.

They say if Rice does have contact with Iranian and Syrian officials, it will be to press those governments to stop trying to destabilize their war-torn neighbor.

The Secretary of State will attend back-to-back international conferences on Iraq in Egypt, the first a gathering of neighboring countries of Iraq and major world powers, and the second a ministerial-level meeting of the International Compact for Iraq, a grouping that seeks to boost the Iraqi economy.

After putting out conflicting signals about its intentions, Iran announced Sunday that Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will be going to Sharm El-Sheikh.

The Bush administration has accused Iran of materially assisting insurgents fighting U.S. forces in Iraq and in comments at the White House Monday, President Bush said if she speaks to Mottaki in Egypt, Secretary Rice will be polite but firm in raising U.S. concerns.

Briefing reporters here, the State Department Iraq policy coordinator David Satterfield said the United States wants Iran to match its stated good intentions toward Iraq with tangible action.

"Iran declares it wants to see a stable, peaceful Iraq sovereign within its borders," said David Satterfield. "That's our objective as well. It should be the objective of all of the neighbors. But in the case of Iran, and in the case of Syria, such a rhetorical declaration carries with it some real implications. It means an end to the supply of weaponry to factions within Iraq. It means an end to the flow of those involved in suicide bombings."

The United States and Iran have not had formal relations since 1979 though diplomats of the two countries have occasionally met at international conferences.

Satterfield made clear the Bush administration wants Iraq's predominantly Sunni-Muslim Arab neighbors to be more supportive of the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, especially Saudi Arabia which recently spurned a top-level meeting with the Iraqi leader.

He said there should be no Arab aid or encouragement for the mainly-Sunni Iraqi insurgents:

"Violence by Sunnis, Sunni Arabs in Iraq, is literally killing the hopes and the future of Iraq's Sunni community," he said. "It doesn't have support outside. It provides in fact a breeding ground, an environment conducive to the growth of other extremists like al-Qaida, who threaten not just Iraqis, but the region as a whole. That's the kind of positive message which the Iraqi government, and we, would certainly like to see emerge."

The Iraq policy coordinator said neighboring Arab states should do more to make Iraq's Shia-led coalition government feel it is a welcome partner in the region.

In particular he said he hopes at the Compact for Iraq meeting that key Arab countries including Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar, match what is expected to be a Saudi initiative to write off 80 per cent of Iraq's debt.