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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ: TWIN BOMBINGS; BUSH ON ESCALATION;
REGIONAL SUPPORT

In a small U.S. victory, 8 Mideast states warn against meddling in Iraq

January 17, 2007|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

KUWAIT CITY — A group of eight Middle Eastern countries joined the United States on Tuesday in warning against foreign interference in Iraq, marking a small step in U.S. efforts to win regional support for pacifying Iraq and resisting Iranian influence.

The group, which consists of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and five other neighboring states, cited in their first joint communique "the principle of noninterference."

The countries, dominated by Sunni Muslims, also welcomed U.S. efforts to rebuild Shiite-led Iraq with an "inclusive political process" and to defend the Persian Gulf.

Foreign ministers of the group issued the statement during a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been traveling the region this week to build support for President Bush's new Iraq policy.

The Bush administration convened the group for the first time in September, proposing collaboration on security and other issues. But though Sunni nations in the region are anxious about the rise of Iran, which, like Iraq, is led by Shiites, some members of the group have resisted suggestions to form a stronger alliance, fearing it could provoke Tehran.

The statement doesn't mention Iran by name, nor does it warn against nuclear proliferation by the regime, despite American concerns about Tehran's work to enrich uranium.

The statement welcomes Bush's commitment to Iraq and the region but doesn't specifically endorse his plan announced last week to increase U.S. forces in Iraq by 21,500 troops.

The American effort to build support got a lukewarm reception in Saudi Arabia, a key ally.

In an appearance with Rice on Tuesday morning, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal said his government agreed with Bush's goals. But he stopped short of saying he favored the troop increase.

"We agree with the objectives," said Faisal, whose government is concerned about what it sees as the mistreatment of the Sunni minority in Iraq. "We are hoping these objectives will be implemented, but the means are not in our hands. They are in the hands of the Iraqis themselves."

The other states in the group are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Rice, who has also visited Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Jordan this week, portrayed the regional reaction in a more positive light.

Although she did not claim backing for the specifics of the Bush plan, she told reporters that "there's very good support for the American commitment there. There's very good support for the objective the president wants to achieve."

Asked about the Saudi foreign minister's comments, she acknowledged: "I do think there's skepticism about whether or not the Iraqi government is going to do the things it says it's going to do.... Everyone is concerned as to the Iraqi willingness now to do all the things that it needs to do."

paul.richter@latimes.com

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