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Rice Announces "Neighbor" Meeting With Syria,
Iraq to Host Regional Gathering in March With US, Others
02/27/2007 6:04 PM ET
Condoleeza Rice Speaking to the Senate
Chip Somodevilla/GETTY
Condoleeza Rice Speaking to the Senate

In a dramatic softening in the Bush Administration's most recent comments on Iran, Secretary Condoleeza Rice used her appearance today in front of the Senate Appropriations Committee to announce what sounds like a new kind of rapprochment toward the Islamic Republic.

Prime Minister Maliki believes and President Bush and I agree that success in Iraq requires the positive support of Iraq's neighbors. This is one of the key findings, of course, of the Iraq Study Group and it is an important dimension that many in the Senate and in the Congress have brought to our attention and I've had very fruitful discussions about how to do this. So I'm pleased to inform you that the Iraqis are launching a new diplomatic initiative which we are going to fully support.

The Government of Iraq is preparing for an expanded neighbors meeting first at the sub-ministerial level that will take place in Baghdad in the first half of March. Invitees would include Iraq's immediate neighbors, as well as representatives from other regional states, multilateral organizations and the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council including of course the United States. This initial meeting will be followed perhaps as early as the first half of April by a ministerial level meeting with the same invitees that is regional states, neighbors, international organizations and the Permanent 5 of the UN, as well as perhaps the members of the G-8.

I would note that the Iraqi Government has invited all of its neighbors, including Syria and Iran, to attend both of these regional meetings. We hope that all governments will seize this opportunity to improve the relations with Iraq and to work for peace and stability in the region. I'm pleased that the Government of Iraq is launching this new diplomatic initiative and that we will be able to support it and participate in it. The violence occurring within the country has a decided impact on Iraq's neighbors. And Iraq's neighbors as well as the international community have a clear role to play in supporting the Iraqi Government's efforts to promote peace and national reconciliation within the country.

State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack went into further detail at an afternoon press conference, though declined to speculate on whether or not the US would allow for any bilateral discussions with the Iranian delegation.

The Iraqi Government has issued invitations to its neighbors, the UN Security Council Permanent 5 as well as some other international organizations, to attend a regional meeting in Baghdad at the envoys level. That would happen the first half of March. There is also an intention to hold another meeting with the same group, however, at the ministerial level and adding in the G-8 countries. So that will pick up Canada, Italy, Germany, and Japan.

The Iraqis are going to set the agenda for both of these meetings. We would expect that it would focus on all the issues that are important to them, as well as others who are there to support the Iraqis' national reconciliation, building the economy, and security issues. So we're going to have these meetings in March and the second one in -- as early as April.

In terms of the diplomatic interactions, I'm not going to try to predict what the course of those diplomatic interactions might be. Security is clearly an important issue for the Iraqis. It's going to be at the top of the agenda. There are clearly issues that we have with respect to security in Iraq. IEDs, EFPs are certainly at the top of our list. This isn't, however, our meeting. Should the topic come up, of course we are going to engage on that issue. And I'm not going to exclude any possible discussions at a regional level that would include -- on a topic that is that important to us and to our troops.

So I can't predict exactly what sort of discussions or diplomatic interactions that we're going to have. Let's let the meeting take place. Again, the focus is on Iraq and we think it is important for all the states that attend this meeting to take the opportunity to demonstrate that they want to play a responsible role in Iraq's future; they want to play a positive role. That would be our hope for this -- for these meetings.

Rice's complete opening remarks and a transcript of today's press briefing can both be found on the State Department's website.

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