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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

08 May 2007

United States Urges Iraqi Neighbors To Play Constructive Role

Rice says Iraqi leadership must move forward with national reconciliation

Washington – The United States wants Iraq’s neighbors to translate their stated support for a stable Iraq into actions that will help reduce the violence in that nation, according to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“We're looking for ground rules that say, if you really do believe that it is in your self-interest, which all of them said, that Iraq is stable, act that way by helping to secure the borders; act that way by helping to deal with displaced people; act that way by not allowing the flow of arms in to violent people, militias and extremists who are killing innocent Iraqis and killing our coalition soldiers; support therefore the conditions in which Iraqis can carry out their national reconciliation,” Rice told PBS broadcast journalist Charlie Rose May 7.

Rice’s interview came shortly after her return from the Iraq Neighbors’ Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where she met with foreign ministers from across the region to develop a coherent strategy for helping Iraq confront its security challenges. (See related article.)

In Egypt, the secretary met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem to discuss U.S. concerns about militant extremists using Syria as an entry point into Iraq.  She told al-Moallem that it is in Syria’s interest to prevent extremists from crossing its territory.  Among other things, Rice said, extremist violence drives refugee flows, and Syria already has absorbed an estimated 1 million Iraqi refugees.

Rice did not meet with her Iranian counterpart, but she told Al-Arabiya television that she hopes the Iranians understood the meeting’s message and “undertake to stop the flow of foreign fighters across their border, to stop the flow of sophisticated weaponry, particularly these explosively formed devices that are really just devastating to innocent Iraqis and to coalition forces.”

Rice said the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting placed the greatest responsibility for future progress on the Iraqi leadership “and that is to bring about an Iraq that all Iraqis can be a part of, to get going on the national reconciliation agenda.”

She said all conference participants emphasized this point.  “Everyone is concerned that the process of national reconciliation will not move forward urgently enough and that will … continue to give an excuse to violent people to try and tear apart Iraq's young democracy,” she said.

Rice discussed this issue further with Iraq Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih during his visit to Washington May 8.

In the PBS interview, Rice urged the Iraqi leadership to move forward with a law on the distribution of oil revenues, a fresh round of provincial elections, a revision of the current restrictions on former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party, even-handed rule of law and an equitable distribution of federal budget resources.

“It's really hard to overcome years of mistrust and skepticism and violence through a political process,” she said.  “But the Iraqis have to take the young political institutions that they have; their parliament has got to work and it's got to work long hours … and it simply has got to keep working on behalf of the Iraqi people because everyone needs to see that.”

Rice expressed opposition to the current planned two-month summer recess for the Iraqi parliament while vital issues remain unresolved.

She also said Iraq’s Sunni Arabs have a special responsibility in the effort to rid Iraq of extremists.  She said the tribal leaders of Anbar province have assumed that responsibility and are fighting to drive al-Qaida militants out of their territory.

Rice said it would be a mistake for the United States to withdraw its forces under the current circumstances because that would open the door to al-Qaida extremism and would invite interference from neighboring countries seeking to influence Iraq’s internal affairs.

Transcripts of Rice interviews with Charlie Rose and Al Arabiya are available on the State Department Web sites.

For more information on U.S. policies, see Iraq Update.

(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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