Arab nations should establish diplomatic relations with Baghdad
Washington -- What Iraq needs most now is greater support from its neighbors, says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"Iraq's fellow Arab states must fulfill their promises to increase their engagement -- diplomatic, economic, social and cultural -- with Iraq's government and people. That includes establishing embassies in Baghdad and exchanging ambassadors," Rice says.
Such engagement with Iraq does not have to match the efforts of the United States, but, increasingly, the conditions in Iraq provide an opportunity for its neighbors to have diplomatic representation there, she says.
And, Iran must end its interference in Iraq's affairs and all other activity that is undermining Iraq's government, Rice said at an April 17 briefing. Rice leaves April 18 for Bahrain and Kuwait, where she will participate in the third Iraq neighbors' conference on April 22.
"This is an opportunity to reinforce the really significant progress that Iraq has made since our meeting last November in Istanbul," she said. The stability and success of Iraq is in the interests of its neighbors and the international community, and the United States will continue working for that, she said.
Previous Iraq neighbors' conferences were held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in May 2007 and Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2007. The meetings attended by senior foreign ministers focus on the stabilization and sovereignty of Iraq and on other issues such as reconciliation in Iraq.
Rice said that both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have indicated they would establish a diplomatic presence in Baghdad, but that such action would not be announced at the conference in Kuwait.
"The thing that would most help Iraq right now, from its neighbors, is debt relief," Rice said. Additionally, Arab neighbors should do everything possible to assist Iraq on refugees, security and its borders, she said.
It also would be of considerable help if the neighbors could convince Iraqi Sunnis to participate fully in the political process. Also any assistance with reconstruction and humanitarian assistance would be helpful, Rice said.
Asked about Iranian representatives attending the neighbors' meeting, Rice said she had no plans to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and his delegation. "No, I don't intend to meet the Iranians. That's not in the plan," she said.
Arab states also need to "confirm and work for Iraq's Arab identity. Iraq is a founding member of the Arab League, and so Iraq should be fully re-incorporated into the Arab world," Rice said. This would assist greatly in shielding Iraq from influences from Iran "that are nefarious influences."
Before attending the neighbors' conference in Kuwait April 22, Rice will stop in Bahrain for meetings with ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as from Egypt and Jordan. The council comprises Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
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