Rice, Gates meet Saudi King amid Iraq concerns



The dinner meeting came after Rice and Gates met counterparts from the Gulf states, Jordan and Egypt in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, extracting renewed promises of help in Iraq and reaffirming Washington’s commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state.




A key part of the visit by the two US officials is to discuss a multi-billion-dollar military aid bonanza for Washington’s friends in the region, which Shiite Iran is accused of "destabilising."



The pacts are worth 20 billion dollars (14.6 billion euros) for Saudi Arabia, 13 billion dollars for Egypt, 30 billion dollars for Israel and reportedly valued at least 20 billion dollars for the other Gulf states.



"All of Iraq’s neighbors could do more to stabilize Iraq," Rice told reporters Tuesday ahead of the talks with the Saudi ruler, without singling out the most powerful Sunni Arab ally of the United States.



The US ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, complained Sunday that Saudi Arabia and other neighbors who were "friends" of the United States were undermining efforts to stabilize the war-ravaged nation.



Saudi Arabia and several other Sunni Arab nations are worried over Iran’s allegedly increasing influence on the Iraq government.



Details of the meeting with King Abdullah were not available but Rice and Gates are scheduled to hold a media conference Wednesday with her Saudi counterpart, Saud al-Faisal.



With Saudi Arabia accused of allowing Sunni militants into Iraq to fight US forces and Iran accused of equipping Iraqi Shiite militias doing the same, the United States, the six Gulf Cooperation Council states and Egypt and Jordan called in a joint statement for "an end to all interference in Iraq."



The statement called for the prevention of "the transit of terrorists to Iraq" and an end to the "supply of arms and training to the militia and extra-governmental groups" in the war-torn country.



The United States has also prodded Saudi Arabia to follow up on is pledge to write off Iraqi debts and is banking on the oil kingdom to participate in Bush’s planned international Middle East peace talks this fall.



The meeting seeks to bring together Israel, the Palestinians and their neighbors with Rice, whose Middle East tour is partly aimed at gauging support from the region for the talks aimed at forging a final status Israeli-Palestinian agreement.



Bush is keen to see the establishment of Israel and Palestine states side by side before he leaves the White House in January 2009.



Rice warned that if unnamed "determined enemies" were successful in Iraq, "then this whole region is going to be chaotic," while Gates sought to allay what he said were regional fears of a precipitous US withdrawal from Iraq.



"There is clearly a concern … that the US would somehow withdraw precipitously from Iraq, or in some way that is destabilising to the entire region," Gates said.



But, he added, even those at home calling for US troops to quit Iraq were increasingly aware "of the need to take into account the consequences if we make a change in our policy and the dangers inherent in doing it unwisely."


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