Rice rejects dialogue with Iran, Syria

US's top diplomat says price for the countries' cooperation in Iraq too high.

Condi Rice 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Condi Rice 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Ahead of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's departure for Israel and other Middle Eastern states this weekend, she rejected proposals to open a diplomatic dialogue with Iran and Syria as a way to help stabilize Iraq. She repeated an offer, however, to meet with her Iranian counterpart "any time, anywhere" if the Islamic Republic were to accede to international demands to suspend its uranium enrichment program. As for Syria, she said President Bashar Assad would demand an easing of the US opposition to Syrian policies in Lebanon as his price for cooperation. Rice testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday, barely 12 hours after President George W. Bush delivered a prime-time speech outlining a new approach to Iraq. She also spoke at a news conference, in which she noted her upcoming trip to the Middle East. "Our most urgent diplomatic goal is to empower reformers and responsible leaders across the region, and to confront extremists," she said. "The proper partners in our regional diplomacy are those who share these goals - our allies, Israel and Turkey, of course, but [also] democratic reformers and leaders in places like Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, and the responsible governments of the Gulf States, plus Egypt and Jordan," she said. Bush's strategy for Iraq calls for clamping down on what the United States sees as Iran and Syria's support for insurgents and trying to get more help from American allies in the region. Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, noted that the Baker-Hamilton report on Iraq policy recommended robust US engagement with Iran and Syria. Dodd, speaking at the Foreign Relations Committee, said Syrian officials told a visiting Senate delegation recently that Syria "does not want a Shi'ite-dominated state on its border," referring to Iraq. Such statements, Dodd suggested, could offer a basis for a dialogue. Rice said a parade of senior US officials had conferred with Syria during Bush's first term, naming former secretary of state Colin Powell; his top deputy, Richard Armitage; and Powell's senior aide for the Middle East, William Burns. Those talks, she said, "got nowhere." She added that diplomats from Britain, Germany and Italy had tried to engage with Damascus with equally fruitless results. The Syrians, she said, "know how to stabilize Iraq. They just have to stop infiltration across borders." She also said the United States has made a conditional offer to Iran to open discussions. "If they are prepared to suspend their enrichment capability, I'm there," Rice said. AP contributed to this report.