Rice Discusses Iraq, Terrorism with Saudi Minister

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Sunday with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister for talks that ranged from fighting terrorism to supporting reconstruction in Iraq. The Saudis promised to encourage Sunni Muslims in Iraq to take part in the process, and they reaffirmed their commitment to putting more money into Iraq's reconstruction.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met today with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister for talks that ranged from fighting terrorism to supporting reconstruction in Iraq. The Saudis promised to encourage Sunni Muslims in Iraq to take part in the process, and they reaffirmed their commitment to putting more money into Iraq's reconstruction. NPR's Corey Flintoff was at the joint news conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and he joins us.

Corey, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, made the Bush administration angry recently because he had a very pessimistic view of the war in Iraq. He said the policies in Iraq were steering the country toward disintegration. Did that issue come up at today's news conference?

COREY FLINTOFF reporting:

Oh, yes, it did. And Prince Saud was mildly more encouraging about the situation this time. He said his fears had been eased from what they were when he gave that very dim assessment. I think that was in September. He said the political process--and he seemed to be talking about Sunni participation in the referendum on the constitution. He said that process had made him a bit more optimistic. Secretary Rice stepped in to add that the future of Iraq was of concern to both countries, and she pointed out that the Saudis particularly, since they've had to deal with internal terrorism and they have a strong interest, of course, in preserving stability in the reason.

HANSEN: Well, one of the big US concerns with Saudi Arabia has been that the Saudi government has actually allowed radical preachers in the country to incite believers against the United States, as well as against Israel. Now how are the Saudis responding to that?

FLINTOFF: Well, Prince Saud addressed that one directly. He tied the news media--he said the news media have spread that impression that some preachers from this fundamentalist Wahabi sect were inflaming young people and helping to recruit them for terrorism. He said the Saudi government has made incitement a crime and that it's trying to educate the population about the dangers of terrorism.

HANSEN: Now the United States has also been trying to get Saudi Arabia's help to encourage Iraqi Sunnis to take part in the political process in Iraq. What word do you have on that?

FLINTOFF: Well, that wasn't altogether clear. Secretary Rice gave a general answer. She said that all of us--meaning Iraq's neighbors and the US--have to stay engaged with Iraq's political process, but she stressed, as she often does, that it was an Iraqi process, it's up to the Iraqis. But that cautiousness seemed to be in response to Shiite leaders in Iraq that they don't want outside interference.

HANSEN: NPR's Corey Flintoff. He's been traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

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