- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 14, 2007

JERUSALEM - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Israel yesterday on the first leg of a Middle East tour seeking support for a U.S. troop increase in Iraq, warning that the consequences of failure are too great to contemplate “pulling the plug.”

Miss Rice urged Sunni Arab nations to help “reintegrate” Iraq into the Arab world to counter the increasing influence of Iran.

“I don’t feel that our hand is weakened” by bipartisan congressional criticism of President Bush’s decision to send an additional 21,500 combat troops to stop sectarian warfare in Iraq, she said.

“I heard skepticism. I didn’t hear alternatives that one can really pursue,” Miss Rice said.

Mr. Bush, who wants to bring the troop level from 132,000 up to 153,500, also called on the Iraqi government to increase its own forces and to do more to quell sectarian violence.

Members of Congress from both parties described the president’s latest effort as a “tragic mistake” and a dangerous foreign-policy blunder.

“We are not pulling the plug on Iraq,” Miss Rice told reporters traveling with her. “If the consequences of failure [in Iraq] for the United States are very great,” they are “even greater” for other Sunni-majority states in the region.

“The surest way to deal with Iranian influence is to have a unified and strong Iraq that is able to integrate with and be supported by its Arab neighbors,” Miss Rice said.

In addition to Israel, Miss Rice is to visit the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where she will also meet with the foreign ministers of other Persian Gulf states.

The secretary also said that the Iranian facility in northern Iraq that was raided by U.S. forces on Thursday was not a consulate or any other type of diplomatic office, as Iranian and Iraqi officials claim.

The U.S. military in Iraq said that five Iranians arrested in the raid in Irbil were part of an elite Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit that supplies weapons to Iraqi insurgents.

“Preliminary results revealed the five detainees are connected to the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) [-] an organization known for providing funds, weapons, improvised explosive device technology and training to extremist groups attempting to destabilize the government of Iraq and attack coalition forces,” the U.S. military said, according to Reuters news agency.

Miss Rice said the United States could deal with Iran’s activities in Iraq without raiding Iranian territory.

“Obviously, the president doesn’t take options off the table, but I think that it’s really fair to say that we believe this is something that can be done in Iraq,” she said.

On her first stop in Jerusalem, Miss Rice met last night with Israel’s foreign and defense ministers, Tzipi Livni and Amir Peretz.

She will travel to the West Bank today for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert tomorrow.

“I’m not coming with a plan,” she said of efforts to revive stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. “No plan can be made in America. There are too many important stakeholders, and any progress on the Palestinian-Israeli front is going to require all of the parties.”

Miss Rice dismissed European ideas to expand the so-called Quartet for Middle East peace to include Arab states. The group’s members are the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

“The Quartet has a certain logic on its own as an international body that in a sense stands outside of the region,” she said.

Significant progress was reported yesterday in secret talks to form a unity government between Hamas, which controls parliament and the Cabinet, and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah faction.

The United States refuses to deal directly with Hamas, which it calls a terrorist group.

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