US Secretary Rice looking for Arab front against Iranian influence
US secretary of state is in Egypt with her colleague at defence. A 43-billion military aid package for Gulf States, Egypt and Israel is announced. Ms Rice will also travel to Saudi Arabia, Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Sharm el Sheikh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates began their Mideast tour at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. The goal of their trip is to enhance security in Iraq and reassure local leaders of continued US commitment to the region. In the background but clearly visible are US concerns over growing Iranian influence. The 43-billion military aid package to Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia and friendly Gulf states is part of this policy.

In her first press conference Ms Rice said that US military agreements will not destabilise the region. “[I]f there is instability in the region, it can be laid to Iran,” thus indicating that containment of the Iranian regime is one of the main US goals.

US sources in fact acknowledge that the two secretaries’ visit to the region reflect the growing concern US allies have about US commitment and its possible pullout from Iraq, a top Pentagon official said.

Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates want to reassure US allies whilst providing support to moderate forces in Iraq.

During the trip the two will meet government leaders from Egypt and Jordan as well as the Gulf Co-operation Council (which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Oman).

An unexpected complication came when US Ambassador to the United Nations. Zalmay Khalilzad complained that US allies in the region were not doing enough to stabilise the Iraqi situation.

Ms Rice is scheduled to travel to Jerusalem and Ramallah where she will meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss steps to take in preparation for an international peace conference that US President George W. Bush wants for this fall.