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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

28 February 2007

U.S. Supports Involving Iran, Syria in Iraq Regional Meeting

Rice, at Senate hearing, also outlines request for emergency diplomacy funds

Washington - The United States supports and will participate in the Iraqi government’s initiative to invite Iran and Syria to a regional conference, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during a congressional hearing February 27 to discuss emergency funding for operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

“Prime Minister Maliki believes, and President Bush and I agree, that success in Iraq requires the positive support of Iraq’s neighbors,” Rice told the Senate Appropriations Committee, which controls U.S. government spending. The committee is considering the Bush administration’s request for $99.6 billion in additional funding for operations and reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan through September 30.

“The Iraqis are launching a new diplomatic initiative, which we are going to fully support,” Rice said. Ambassadors are expected to meet on or around March 11 for an “expanded neighbors meeting” that will include representatives of Iraq’s immediate neighbors, as well as other regional states, multilateral organizations and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Following an initial meeting in March, foreign ministers are expected to reconvene during the first half of April, Rice said. Iraq might also invite the Group of Eight (G8) to this meeting. The G8 nations are Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia.

“We hope that all governments will seize this opportunity to improve their relations with Iraq and to work for peace and stability in the region,” Rice said.

NO CHANGE IN U.S. POLICY ON IRAN, WHITE HOUSE SAYS

White House spokesman Tony Snow on February 28 stressed that Rice’s potential meeting with her Iranian and Syrian counterparts does not represent a change in U.S. policy. The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in April 1980, five months after Iranian students occupied the American Embassy in Tehran, holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

“We’re not meeting with Iran,” Snow said of the proposed meeting of Iraq’s neighbors and interested parties. “The whole purpose here is to focus not on relations between the United States and Iran, but how to improve things in Iraq.”

The United States has attended other meetings in which Iranian government officials also have participated, Snow explained.

"The United States in a number of forums in recent years has been at the table along with Iran and Syria on issues of regional concern, going back to the early meetings on Afghanistan to the ministerials last year attended by Secretary Rice,” Snow said. “So it's not a crack in the wall. It’s another example, though, of the United States working diplomatically.”

Snow added, “We are not engaging in diplomatic recognition of Iran. We are not engaging in bilateral talks with Iran.  We are participants in talks that have been organized by the government of Iraq to deal with issues of regional concern with its neighbors, which is something everybody’s strongly recommended.”

The United States also has worked bilaterally with Iran in specific situations such as Afghan border issues, Snow said.

RICE OUTLINES DIPLOMATIC FUNDING REQUEST

In her February 27 testimony, Rice also outlined some of the diplomatic elements in the Bush administration’s request for $99.6 billion in emergency overseas funding. The bulk of the funding would support U.S. military operations; however, $5.99 billion would go to international affairs programs.

The diplomatic projects outlined by Rice include:

• $720 million for programs supporting provincial reconstruction teams (PRTs). The State Department plans to expand the number of PRTs in Iraq from 10 to 20, and personnel already are being assigned to the new teams. The teams work with provincial and local governments to improve governance, support moderate leaders and address local needs at a community level.

• $534 million for projects coordinated by PRTs to create jobs, support local businesses and help increase agricultural employment.

• $293 million to support continued improvements of Iraq’s government ministries.

• $200 million to strengthen Iraq’s judicial processes, criminal justice system and anti-corruption initiatives.

• $428 million for democracy programs to support greater engagement with political parties, civil society organizations and national political institutions such as parliament.

• $60 million for humanitarian programs to support the growing number of displaced people within Iraq who have fled areas of sectarian violence.

• $751 million for reconstruction and development projects in Afghanistan, to include construction of important roads, more stable power supplies in Kabul and elsewhere, and an expansion of programs to provide alternative income to counter the cultivation of opium poppies.

For the funds to become available, the administration’s supplemental request must be approved by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed by the president.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Rebuilding Afghanistan.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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