Rice, Gates urge Mideast to control borders with Iraq
SHARM EL SHEIK — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, in a rare joint mission to the Middle East, on July 31 urged Saudi Arabia and other neighbors of Iraq to adopt tougher border controls to stem the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq.
The two Cabinet secretaries also said they found a growing sense of alarm in the region about the prospect of an abrupt U.S. military pullout from Iraq, given the violence and instability there.
“What I have begun to hear is more and more undertone, even from those who oppose the president’s policies, 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,” Mr. Gates said, noting the debate in Washington over the war.
Miss Rice and Mr. Gates said they went out of their way to assure Arab leaders that President Bush will make decisions in Iraq based on long-term interests, rather than short-term political objectives.
The meeting of Mr. Bush’s most senior national security advisers with top officials from eight Arab states was the administration’s most deliberate attempt yet to convince them that what happens in Iraq will directly affect their countries.
“Everybody recognizes that, if Iraq is going to be stable against what are very difficult circumstances, everybody is going to have to do more,” Miss Rice told reporters traveling with her and Mr. Gates after what some described as an uneasy session.
“That ‘more’ includes better border patrols,” she said. Miss Rice said that follow-on working groups and “maybe even something more permanent” by Iraq’s neighbors “could really make it very hard for foreign fighters to cross those borders.”
U.S. officials say the flow of fighters into Iraq has helped fuel an insurgency that has targeted both U.S. forces and the embattled government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
A key part of the visit by the two U.S. officials is to discuss a multibillion-dollar military aid bonanza for Washington’s allies in the region, which Shi’ite Iran is accused of “destabilizing.”
Miss Rice said the borders in the region “have been permeable for many, many decades, if not longer, and so it’s not easy to talk about better border patrols, but people wish to undertake that.”
A man looks at a fuel tanker that exploded near a gas station in the primarily Sunni Mansour neighborhood of western Baghdad, Iraq, killing at least 50 people and wounding 60, on Aug. 1. Police said the explosion was the work of a suicide attacker.