- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2007

President Bush’s top diplomatic and military managers have a tough assignment in the Middle East in the week ahead: They must convince skeptical Arab nations they have more to lose if Iraq fails than they stand to gain by waiting until the United States leaves or Mr. Bush’s term ends.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will visit Egypt and Saudi Arabia for a rare joint lobbying effort to prod Iraq’s mostly rich, Sunni-led Mideast neighbors to help stabilize the chaotic country and support its weak Shi’ite-headed government.

Mr. Gates and Miss Rice will also do some hand-holding with Arab allies worried that the U.S. may leave a dangerous vacuum if it withdraws troops too quickly. The Cabinet secretaries will try to solidify what the U.S. sees as a bulwark of generally moderate Arab states against an increasingly ambitious and unpredictable Iran.

Unity against Iran is not a hard sell. But Washington has had far less success in winning substantive Arab help for Iraq.

Arab money and diplomatic support has lagged behind Europe’s, and some of Iraq’s neighbors quietly tolerate, or may secretly support, attacks inside Iraq. Some of the violence targets U.S. forces and some of it Shi’ite militias and neighborhoods.

Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s ambassador to Baghdad before he was shifted to the United Nations, specifically named Saudi Arabia yesterday as one of the countries undermining efforts to stabilize Iraq.

Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries are not doing all they can to help us in Iraq,” said Mr. Khalilzad, who in an opinion column for the New York Times this month accused certain U.S. allies of pursuing destabilizing policies toward Iraq.

“At times, some of them are not only not helping, but they are doing things that is undermining the effort to make progress,” he said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

Envoys from eight Persian Gulf and other Mideast nations will hear from Miss Rice and Mr. Gates tomorrow at a regional meeting. It is to take place at Sharm el Sheik, the same Egyptian resort that hosted a major international conference on securing Iraq nearly three months ago.

Little has happened since, despite specific pledges of help and the formation of committees meant to help Iraq solve some of its toughest problems. The committees have yet to meet, although there are plans to do so soon.

“Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates, when they go out on their trip next week, are going to be talking to the Saudis, as well as others, about what they might do,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

Saudi Arabia is Washington’s most powerful and closest Arab ally in a troubled region where anti-American sentiment is growing rapidly. The kingdom, built on oil wealth, is also the main focus of the visit by Miss Rice and Mr. Gates.

A traditional dinner with Saudi King Abdullah is the centerpiece of their visit to Jiddah, their last joint stop before heading to separate meetings in the region.