Saudi Arabia Pledges to Support Iraq, Promote Regional Stability
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Aug. 1, 2007 Saudi Arabia promised today to continue working with its Gulf neighbors to support Iraq’s new government and promote stability in the region.
Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal made the pledge here during a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The news conference followed the secretaries’ meeting last night with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and other top Saudi officials to explore ways to build closer ties between the two countries and encourage greater support for Iraq. That session and today’s meeting between Rice and the foreign minister covered the watershed, the leaders told reporters.
Gates described “excellent conversations” at last night’s dinner at the king’s opulent summer palace “on a range of security issues and challenges in the region, particularly in the Persian Gulf.” Lebanon and other issues also topped the agenda.
“We explored the possibility for further, closer partnerships and security,” Gates said, indicating that more conversations would follow this morning and in the future.
Much of the conversations focused on Iraq, which the Saudi leaders pledged to support. “Saudi Arabia is a member of a group of the neighbors that have agreed on a course of action in supporting a unified and stable and democratic Iraq,” Rice said. “And we all have our obligations to carry out, and we are in the process of carrying them out.”
Asked if Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government is ensuring enough protection for all Iraqi groups, including Sunnis, Saud declined to comment. “It is up to the Iraqi people to decide,” he said.
The foreign minister said Saudi Arabia, which has a predominantly Sunni Muslim population, perceives all Iraqis the same. “And we cooperate with anybody who is working for unity and the territorial integrity of Iraq,” he said.
In response to a reporter’s question, Gates acknowledged that four years of war has been challenging to the United States, and he shared Rice’s assertion that Iraqis need to move forward with political reconciliation.
“We have suffered just over 3,000 American soldiers killed in battle, several tens of thousands wounded,” he said. “This is very painful for the American people.”
However, he said, there’s “an appreciation that the United States must not take any action as we look forward that is destabilizing here in this region.” He said he’s confident that President Bush will consider the long-term stability of the region as he makes decisions regarding Iraq.
Saudi Arabia is beginning political discourse with Iraq, and recently hosted a mission from Iraq to discuss security issues, the foreign minister told reporters.
He described plans to send a Saudi mission to Iraq soon to lay groundwork for setting up an embassy there, a move Rice welcomed as a big step forward for Iraq. “This is something we have encouraged,” she said. “We believe it is an important step, because normal relations between Iraq and its neighbors is extremely important in affirming its identify in this part of the world.”
The foreign minister expressed particular concern about dealing with terrorist activity, and said it is working closely with the Iraqi and U.S. governments to help prevent cross-border terrorist movement.
He said Saudi Arabia continues work to protect its border with Iraq, but that “what is needed for action is on the other side.”
“The traffic of terrorists, I can assure you, is more on this side coming to us from Iraq than going from us to Iraq,” he said.
The Saudi foreign minister said the Iraqis “have promised to cooperate with us in this regard.”
Rice said the United States and Saudi Arabia intend to build on their long history and help ensure stability in Iraq and the entire region. But six decades of friendship and alliance between the two countries “doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements about policy (or) tactics from time to time,” she said.
“The fact is, this is a relationship that allows us to discuss the most difficult and most sensitive issues in a way that is respectful and friendly,” she said.
If differences arise, she added, “we talk about them.”
Gates and Rice’s trip here follows meetings yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council as well as Egyptian and Jordanian leaders. That session, like those here in Saudi Arabia, was part of the two leaders’ sweep through the Middle East to bolster support for Iraq and reassure its neighbors of U.S. interest in their security.
A senior defense official told reporters Gates is doing more listening than talking as he explores ways to expand on existing security relationships in the region and build new ones. “He’s very much looking for their ideas,” she said.