Rice Launches Mideast Consultations on Iraq, Iran, Mideast Peace

By Carrie Loewenthal
USINFO Special Correspondent

Washington - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Jerusalem January 13 on her third trip to the Middle East since October 2006 saying she planned to discuss with U.S. allies in the region topics including Iraq, Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I think it’s important to see all of this as a process of building relationships, building a sense of consultation and getting a strong sense of where people stand on important issues,” Rice told reporters en route to Israel.

In a series of press interviews prior to her departure, Rice discussed President Bush's plan to deploy more U.S. troops in Iraq until that country's own forces are able to take over security operations.  Rice told Fox News that the decision to send more U.S. troops followed a proposal from Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, who had told Bush that stabilization of Baghdad could not wait until Iraqi troops were able to manage on their own.  (See related article.)

Rice also noted that U.S. military and diplomatic tactics in Iraq have evolved from a centralized approach focused on Baghdad to a “more localized provincial strategy” that strives to engage local leaders and tribal sheikhs in towns and cities.

“If I could change one thing going back, the more localized strategy, I think, has been much more successful than the concentration in Baghdad,” she told The New York Times.  A less centralized strategy “gives you multiple points for success rather than a single one,” she continued.

Rice told Time Magazine that one of her goals for this trip is to further engage the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and those of Egypt and Jordan in diplomatic efforts to engage Sunni Muslims in political processes in Iraq.  The GCC comprises representatives from Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.  Rice said she would also encourage countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait to consider debt relief for Iraq.


In her interview with Fox, Rice said she will discuss with the leaders of the Gulf states their concerns about “Iranian assertiveness and the future of Iranian assertiveness.”

“The Iranians are making life very difficult for a lot of our friends in the region through Hezbollah and Hamas and support for extremists.  They threaten to really destabilize the region,” she said.

The United States will combat Iranian efforts at destabilization, especially in Iraq, Rice said, adding that the U.S. military aims to carry out these efforts from within Iraq.

“We’re going to continue to reach out to the Iranian people, a great people, a people that shouldn’t be isolated," Rice said.  "But we have to be very tough with Iran and make life difficult for them if they’re not going to adhere to international norms.”

Rice noted that a delegation of Iranian medical personnel had recently visited the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, and that an American wrestling team is preparing travel to Iran. 


Rice said she also plans to discuss with Mideast leaders the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and the possibility of moving forward on the road map toward establishing an independent Palestinian state.  She told reporters, however, that she is “not coming with a proposal.

“If you’re not careful and you kind of prematurely launch people face-to-face and say, 'all right, go try to get a solution here,' it has a very high risk of failure, I think,” Rice said in her interview with Time.  “You really do need some true consultation time and that’s what I’m going to try to do.”

“I think this is certainly the time to see if the opening I think may be there is indeed there,” Rice said.

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


Transcripts of the secretary' interviews with Fox, Time Magazine, and New York Times are available on the State Department's website, along with her press availability in Jerusalem and her remarks en route to Israel.