Rice calls Iraq fragile, urges Saudi outreach to Israel


Riyadh : US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who made a surprise visit to Iraq on her way to Saudi Arabia, was optimistic about improvements and reconciliation in the country.

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Speaking to reporters Tuesday evening in the Saudi capital Riyadh, she noted progress was still fragile. She greeted Iraq’s agreement on social security reform, and Saudi Arabia’s decision to open an embassy in Baghdad in a few months.

Rice is accompanying US President George W. Bush on his eight-day journey across the Middle East.

Rice, following up on Bush’s earlier remarks on the Mideast conflict, urged the Arab regional states to make “efforts to reach out to the Israelis as this process goes forward.”

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal repeated Arab demands that Israel stop expanding settlements in the Palestinian territories, which he said raised doubts about Israel’s interest in peace.

Saudi Arabia and other Arab states have offered Israel normalized relations if Israel gives up the occupied territories and its settlements, he said, and it was up to Israel to make the peace process succeed.

“I don’t know what more outreach we can give to the Israelis,” Al-Faisal said. “Every time there was a need for the Arab countries to show their seriousness about this, they have not let that opportunity pass without showing their serious intent in this.”

On Iran, Al-Faisal said as a neighbour, Saudi Arabia has nothing against Iran. But he said he hoped that Iran would respond to the UN requirements of transparency and legitimacy and “avoid escalation”.