Condoleezza Rice troubleshoots Iraq

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a personal appeal today for Iraqis to bridge sectarian differences, venturing to a majority Sunni Arab region of the country to ask for cooperation in the coming election.

“I want to talk about the importance of reaching across sectarian lines,” Rice said on her unannounced visit to this northern Iraqi city, which is about 60% Sunni Arab.

Earlier, Rice condemned the bombings in Jordan as the work of indiscriminate killers and said she may visit the kingdom while in the Mideast this week to show solidarity with an Arab ally in the fight against terrorism.

The nearly simultaneous attack on three Western hotels that killed at least 56 people – including partygoers at a wedding celebration – “underscores that these terrorists will attack innocent people without remorse,” Rice said yesterday as she flew to the region.

Rice’s trip, scheduled before Wednesday’s bombings, includes a stop in Bahrain for meetings on development and democratic progress in the Middle East. She will also visit Saudi Arabia, Israel and the West Bank.

Rice said she will talk to Jordanian leaders about whether to take a side trip to Jordan, saying she did not want to interfere with recovery efforts.

She said street protests against the bombings by angry Jordanians show the terrorists’ message does not resonate.

“People are really tired of these killers,” she said.

Rice expressed hope that a deal could be reached with Iran regarding its nuclear program. But she would not confirm that the US would back a deal with Europe, described by senior officials and diplomats, to accept expanded Iranian nuclear activities if uranium enrichment is done in Russia.

“There is no US-European proposal to the Iranians,” Rice said. “I want to say that categorically. There isn’t and there won’t be.”

The European Union, led by Britain, France and Germany, has negotiated with Tehran to allow legitimate civilian nuclear power development in Iran while preventing a spin-off of technology that could produce a bomb. The United States contends Iran has covert ambitions for a bomb, which Iran denies.

“We do hope that if there is a way for the Iranians to accept a way forward that would give confidence that they are not in fact trying to seek nuclear weapons under cover of civilian nuclear power that they would take that,” Rice said.

She also predicted that the US has sufficient support at the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency to send Iran before the Security Council for possible sanctions. The International Atomic Energy Agency meets on November 24, but a deal ahead of that date could avert a vote.

On another matter before the United Nations, Rice harshly criticised Syria’s response to a US-backed measure demanding cooperation in a UN investigation of the February assassination of Rafik Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister who opposed Syria’s involvement in Lebanese affairs.

Syria put off United Nations prosecutor Detlev Mehlis’ attempts to gather information in Syria and questioned his findings. Investigators have been unable to interview six key Syrian officials.

Damascus recently announced its own investigation of Hariri’s death, but Rice dismissed that as a stalling tactic.

“I don’t think this constitutes co-operation.” Rice said. A unanimous vote in the Security Council on October 31 ”couldn’t have been clearer,” she said. “... They are expected to answer affirmatively, possibly yes, to whatever Mehlis needs to complete his investigation.”

Separately, Rice did not rule out eventual trials of terrorist figures that might mirror the current trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

“Everybody wants people to be brought to justice,” Rice said when asked whether alleged terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, assumed to be under interrogation in US custody, might one day be put on trial. Rice was careful not to confirm that he is in US hands.

Bringing terrorists to justice should be “done in a way that there will be confidence even for people who clearly have been killers, have been murderers on a scale that is unimaginable. I think that we will want to make sure that people know that they got a fair trial.”

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