Rice to meet Olmert in Jerusalem

US secretary of state to meet Israeli prime minister and Palestinian president.

    Gates and Rice held talks with King Abdullah in Jeddah [EPA]
    Rice has been pushing for a Middle East conference after an announcement on Wednesday by Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, that his country would seriously consider attending the gathering if invited.
    Olmert's office responded by saying that Israel hopes "many Arab countries will attend this international meeting, including Saudi Arabia".
    A meeting between Israeli and Saudi representatives would be a major diplomatic breakthrough.

    Though Israel and Saudi Arabia are both US allies, representatives of the countries have never officially met and Saudi Arabia has never recognised the Jewish state.

    Rice and Gates are aiming to unite Washington's Arab allies against Iran and Syria and to encourage them to help stabilise Iraq by bolstering the Baghdad government.
    It is their first joint tour of the region.
    At a news conference following the meeting with the GCC foreign ministers, Rice said she had discussed the challenges facing Lebanon and Washington's commitment to a two-state solution in Palestine.
    Military aid
    Earlier, on her way to Sharm el-Sheikh, Rice said that "as security permits, we hope more states would undertake more diplomatic missions to Iraq".
    She also appealed for Arab countries to further cut Iraqi debts.

    "He who wants to make peace does not start out with an arms initiative which is dangerous for the region"

    Walid Muallem, Syria's foreign minister

    Arab diplomatic missions in Baghdad have scaled back their  representation after a campaign of attacks and kidnappings.
    On Monday, the US announced military aid worth more than $43bn to Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states in an effort to boost its Middle East allies against Iran.
    Egypt will receive $13bn in aid over 10 years while $30bn will go to Israel over the same period, Rice said.
    Rice said that an unspecified defence aid package was allocated for Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
    The Saudi package is expected to upgrade the country's missile defences and air force and increase its naval capabilities, a defence official said on Saturday.
    Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries are likely to receive as much as $20bn over 10 years, he said.
    Rice said: "This effort will help bolster forces of moderation and support a broader strategy to counter the negative influences of al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran."
    Syria's foreign minister called the US administration's armaments deal "dangerous".
    "He who wants to make peace does not start out with an arms initiative which is dangerous for the region," Walid Muallem said on Tuesday.
    Iran anger
    Tehran accused the US on Monday of creating fear and causing divisions in the Middle East by announcing the major package of arms deals.
    Mohammad Ali Hosseini, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, said: "America has always considered one policy in this region and that is creating fear and concerns in the countries of the region and trying to harm the good relations between these countries."
    However, Nicholas Burns, the US undersecretary of state, characterised the deals as a continuation of existing policy.
    "It's not as if we're introducing some new element in the region," he said. "Iran is a factor in this, but it wasn't the overriding factor."
    He said he saw no conflict between the aid packages to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, whose governments have a long record of human-rights abuses, and the current administration's long-term goal of promoting democracy in the region, led by George Bush, the US president.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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