U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she will push Iraq's Arab neighbors to boost diplomatic relations and other ties with Baghdad as a counter-weight to Iranian influence. Rice leaves Saturday on a mission to the Gulf including an Iraq neighbors conference in Kuwait. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States has welcomed the stated commitments of key Gulf allies including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to set up embassies in Baghdad. But Rice is signaling impatience with a lack of action on such promises, and is making clear her intention to press the matter at the Kuwait conference.

In a talk with reporters, Rice said security conditions in Iraq have vastly improved since the Bush administration began pressing the issue of Arab ties with Baghdad months ago.

She said while Arab states need not match the U.S. diplomatic commitment to Iraq as evidenced by the new $700 million American embassy in Baghdad, they should be represented into order to as she put it "confirm and work for Iraq's Arab identity" in the face of Iranian influence.

"Iraq should be fully reincorporated into the Arab world," Rice said. "It think that in and of itself will begin to shield from influences of Iran that are nefarious influences. Iran is a neighbor. It's going to have influence. But Iraq is first and foremost an Arab state. It's a state in which Iraqi nationalism is very strong, and the neighbors ought to be reinforcing that."

Iran will be represented at the Kuwait ministerial though Rice said she has no plans for any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.

She said Iran must end what she termed "malign actions" that undermine the Baghdad government, and said ultimately the stability and success of Iraq is in the interests of all of its neighbors including Tehran.

Rice said the stress on Iranian meddling by senior U.S. figures including Iraq military commander General David Petraeus does not mean the threat from Sunni insurgents in Iraq has disappeared. But she said the position of groups like al-Qaida in Iraq has been significantly weakened:

"The context for al-Qaida and the Sunni insurgents, to the degree that they continue to operate is a far less hospitable context, in which their base of operations, Anbar [province], is overwhelmingly controlled-cities like Ramadi and Faluja - by legitimate Iraqi authorities," Rice said. "And the rebuilding of those cities gives reason to the people of those provincial cities to continue to support the government."

Rice said Iraqis are turning security gains into political progress, and she suggested that no other country in the Middle East is doing a better job of trying to peacefully reconcile its Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities.