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Kuwait, Saudi voice Arab backing for U.S. plan on Iraq

By Haitham Haddadin 25 minutes ago

Moderate Arab states told the United States on Tuesday they supported President George W. Bush's plan for a military buildup in Iraq, hoping it would halt a slide to civil war.

Foreign ministers of six Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan, all concerned that chaos in Iraq could spread to the entire region, expressed their backing for the 20,000 extra troops at talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Kuwait.

"We expressed our desire to see the president's plan to reinforce American military presence in Baghdad as a vehicle ... to stabilize Baghdad and prevent Iraq sliding into this ugly war, this civil war," Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammad al-Salem al-Sabah told a joint news conference with Rice, who is on a regional tour to marshal support for Bush's plan.

Rice admitted the plan was unlikely to end violence quickly.

"Violent people will always be able to kill innocent people and so, even with the new security plan ... there is still going to be violence," Rice told reporters.

A statement issued after Rice met the ministers said: "The participants welcomed the commitment by the United States as stated in President Bush's recent speech to defend the security of the Gulf, the territorial integrity of Iraq and to ensure a ... fair and inclusive political process that engages all Iraqi communities and guarantees the stability of the country."

It also called for a revision of the U.S.-backed Iraqi constitution, seen as pro-Shi'ite by many Sunni Muslims.


The United States earlier won Saudi backing for the plan, but Washington's Gulf ally said success depended on Baghdad tackling sectarian strife driving the country toward civil war.

Many Arab countries, including heavyweight Saudi Arabia, fear the new plan would lead to an early departure of U.S. troops from Iraq, leaving the violence-ravaged country moving toward civil war that might spill beyond Iraq's borders.

"We agree fully with the goals set by the new strategy, which in our view are the goals that -- if implemented -- would solve the problems that face Iraq," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a joint news conference in Riyadh.

But he said the Iraqi government needed to play its part, and that Shi'ite militias had to be disbanded.

"(The government) must deal with the issue of militias.

"Implementation (of U.S. strategy) requires a positive response by the Iraqis themselves to these goals ... Other countries can help, but the main responsibility in taking decisions rests on the Iraqis," he said.

The U.S. administration has been urging Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries to play a greater role in backing Iraq.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, fears an early U.S. troop withdrawal would solidify Shi'ite power and leave minority Sunnis at the mercy of Shi'ite militias.

Rice acknowledged the Saudi concern about militias but raised the issue of Saudi debt relief for Iraq, which Washington says would be a big help.

"We will continue to work with the Iraqi government to make sure networks running dangerous militias are stopped," she said.

The Saudi minister rejected suggestions that Saudi Arabia would use oil as a political tool to pressure Iran.

Washington and Riyadh accuse Shi'ite power Iran of backing militia violence in Iraq. U.S. forces are holding five Iranians after raiding an Iranian government office in northern Iraq last week -- the second such operation in Iraq in the past few weeks.

A Saudi official said on Monday Iran had asked Saudi Arabia to help ease tension between the Islamic Republic and the United States, but an Iranian foreign ministry official was quoted on Tuesday as denying any request for mediation. Rice and Prince Saudi also played down such talk.

"There is no need for mediation," Prince Saud said, but added: "Iran is a neighbor of Saudi Arabia, so obviously we hope to avoid any conflict."

Rice said on Monday she would bring Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas together soon for informal talks on how to set up a Palestinian state.

A senior U.S. official said the meeting would be held in three to four weeks, probably in the Middle East.

Arab states are eager for Washington to renew efforts to find a solution to the historical conflict, which they say is the underlying cause of the region's political problems.

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