The recent international conference on Iraq held in Sharm el-Sheikh was the biggest and most inclusive diplomatic push to end that nationâ€™s security crisis since the 2003 invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.Â During an unannounced visit to Baghdad earlier this week, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney says he pressed Iraqi leaders to make progress on pending security and political issues.Â Vice President Cheney is also visiting Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to garner their support in helping to stabilize Iraq.
According to many analysts, the U.S.-Syrian meeting on the sidelines of the Sharm el-Sheikh conference was a long anticipated breakthrough.Â Syriaâ€™s Ambassador to Washington described Secretary Riceâ€™s meeting with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem as â€œsignificant.â€Â Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Nowâ€™s International Press Club, Nadia Bilbassy, senior diplomatic correspondent for Al-Arabiya television, says thatâ€™s the way the Arab World sees it, too.Â She says Secretary Rice told the Syrians that Washington wants Damascus to do more to seal its borders and stop foreign fighters from entering Iraq.Â Syriaâ€™s Ambassador to Washington later described the high-level meeting as a â€œtipping pointâ€ in U.S.- Syrian bilateral relations.Â Ms. Bilbassy says it seems to signal a â€œchange in attitude â€¦ regarding the two pariah statesâ€ â€“ Syria and Iran â€“ that the United States had refused to talk to.
Gerard Baker, U.S. editor of The Times of London, says that people in Britain also see the meeting as a breakthrough, even though â€œthey donâ€™t expect anything much to come of it.â€Â Mr. Baker says the British are â€œpretty pessimisticâ€ about Iraq.Â There is, however, a belief that Washington should talk with countries in the region, whatever it may think of their policies regarding Iraq.
Although no high-level meeting took place between Secretary Rice and her Iranian counterpart at Sharm el-Sheikh, her chief coordinator for Iraq and Americaâ€™s Ambassador to Iraq did meet with Iranâ€™s Deputy Foreign Minister for a few minutes.Â People in the Arab World see that as promising, according to Nadia Bilbassy, and there is an â€œunderstanding in the region that Iranian influence has to be halted.â€
Iranian journalist Ali-Reza Nourizadeh, who directs the Center for Arab-Iranian Studies in London, says he faults the Iranian Foreign Minster for using an entertainerâ€™s red dress as a â€œpretextâ€ to leave a diplomatic dinner early.Â And in that way, he could avoid speaking with the U.S. Secretary of States.Â But Mr. Nourizadeh says Iranians were not fooled because they had earlier seen President Ahmadinejad sitting with the Emir of Qatar, watching dances during opening ceremonies of the Asian Games in Doha.Â Unfortunately, he says Iran lost an important opportunity.Â Mr. Nourizadeh also says that not addressing the stabilization of Iraq makes no practical sense because Iran certainly does not want to see Iraq fall apart, which would in fact be a â€œnightmareâ€ scenario for Tehran.
On the other hand, Nadia Bilbassy says Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malikiâ€™s promise to accelerate political reforms, to reconcile ethnic groups, and to disband and disarm all militias was greeted with much â€œskepticismâ€ in the Arab World.Â British journalist Gerard Baker says people in Britain do not find the Iraqi Prime Ministerâ€™s promise of reform and national reconciliation credible either.Â The view in Washington is that success in Iraq depends largely on the â€œpolitical willâ€ of the Prime Minister and it remains to be seen whether benchmarks for progress on the political front will be met.