RAMSTEIN, Germany (AFP) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ruled out talks with Iran or Syria unless they mend their ways, despite mounting global pressure for a new strategy to stabilise Iraq.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday as she flew to Vietnam for an Asia-Pacific regional conference, Rice also rejected the proposition by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that a lack of progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was fuelling violence in Iraq.
“I think we have to be careful not to say, well, if there is a Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough, that will help in Iraq,” Rice said, shortly before her plane touched down for a stopover at a US military base in Ramstein, Germany, en route to Hanoi.
“Iraq is involved in its own struggle,” she said.
In recent days, Blair, President George W. Bush’s closest ally in the US-led “war on terror,” has insisted that Iraq must be part of a broader Middle East strategy, with resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its core.
He has also mooted a “partnership” with US foes Iran and Syria to help bring stability to Iraq and the rest of the region.
But Rice stressed there were no “magic bullets” for resolving the situation in Iraq and made it clear that neither Tehran nor Damascus had given any sign that they would make constructive partners for a dialogue.
“I think the question is: is there anything about Iranian behaviour that suggests that they are prepared to contribute to stability in Iraq? And I have to say that at this point I don’t see it,” Rice said.
“What is it that Syria is doing?” she added. “Right now, it appears to align itself with the forces of extremism.”
Blair’s remarks this week were seen by some observers on both sides of the Atlantic as an attempt to influence US policy in the Middle East, at a time when changes in Iraq strategy are being contemplated following the Republican defeat in mid-term elections.
The White House moved swiftly on Tuesday to dismiss any suggestion of a growing strategic rift with Britain, insisting that Blair’s statements showed no divergence from the policies of the Bush administration.
Rice also made it clear that Washington was willing to engage with any country in seeking to stabilise Iraq as long there was a potential for fruitful dialogue.
“It is not an issue of whether you talk to somebody,” she said.
“I would talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime, under the right circumstances if I think we can make progress. I am not afraid to talk to anyone.”
Bush, Blair and Rice have all been quizzed recently by the Iraq Study Group, led by former US secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic lawmaker Lee Hamilton.
The panel, that is expected to issue a far-reaching advisory report next month, has been reportedly considering proposals for new diplomatic overtures to Iran and Syria over Iraq.
“I think we will have to see what ideas come from there,” Rice said of the panel.
“At that point, we can step back and see what new ideas might help us chart a more successful way forward because, obviously, we’re not making the progress (in Iraq) that we want to make,” she said.