Rice, Gates in region for talks with Arab allies on Iraq, Iran
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Egypt on Tuesday with promises of arms for allies in the Middle East, saying it would help counter al Qaeda, Hizbullah, Syria and Iran.
Rice and Gates, who are also due to visit Saudi Arabia, planned to urge their Arab friends to do more to help the United States over Iraq.
The military aid package on offer to Egypt is $13 billion over 10 years, the same level as for at least the last six years. But Washington is offering Israel an increase of about 25 percent -- to $30 billion over the next 10 years. "This is not an issue of quid pro quo. We are working with these states to fight back extremism and to give a chance to the forces of moderation and reform," Rice told reporters before leaving Washington.
"We all have the same interest in a stable Iraq that can defend itself ... and be unified," she added. "As security permits we hope more states would undertake more diplomatic missions to Iraq," Rice told reporters.
The U.S. military package includes weapons for Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf countries but the U.S. officials have not said whether this would be mostly sales. According to Reuters, 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."
"If there is a destabilization of the region it can be laid at the feet of an Iranian regime," said Rice. "This is a positive agenda in the Middle East."
In the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday, Rice and Gates met the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The Arab ministers flew in from an Arab League meeting in Cairo on Monday, at which they gave qualified support to Bush's idea of a Middle East peace conference later this year.
Syria objected, saying that to support the U.S. proposal under present conditions would betray the Palestinian cause. The ministers said the conference must include all parties concerned, must aim to revive negotiations between Israel and all its neighbors and must be built on previous peace talks.