Page last updated at 13:21 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 14:21 UK

Rice joins Gulf regional meeting

Condoleezza Rice, in  November 2007
Rice is calling on Arab states to try to counter Iranian influence

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Bahrain for a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Ms Rice repeated calls for Arab states to open full diplomatic ties with Baghdad to counter Iranian influence in the region.

Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki has made a similar appeal.

He said he was bewildered by the position of countries that did not recognise the Iraqi political process and incited strife.

From Bahrain Ms Rice will travel on to Kuwait for talks with countries that neighbour Iraq.

Officials from Iran and Syria are expected at the discussions in Kuwait although there are no plans for the secretary of state to meet them.

Many Arab diplomats have stayed away from Baghdad following attacks on Egyptian and Jordanian officials there. (Some countries, including Saudi Arabia, had promised to reopen their embassies, but have failed to do so.)

In Manama, Bahrain's capital, Ms Rice said that Iraq's neighbours had taken a "good step forward" by pledging to do more to include the country in regional affairs.

Ms Rice is also seeking a forgiveness from Gulf Arab states for debts totalling $4.1bn (2bn) owed by Iraq from before the 2003 invasion led by the United States.

'Political centre'

On Sunday Ms Rice made an unannounced visit to the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.

Ms Rice said she saw a "coalescing of a centre in Iraqi politics" and that leaders of the various Iraqi factions were more united than ever.

She arrived in the city a day after Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr threatened to wage "open war" on Iraq's government.

He urged them to halt operations against his supporters. But clashes between his forces and Iraqi-led coalition troops are continuing.

Ms Rice said Sunnis, Kurds and Shias had been working together better than at any time before, the BBC's correspondent Crispin Thorold said from Baghdad.

Ms Rice praised the security efforts against the Shia militias.

In violence on Sunday, at least six people were reported to have been killed and 15 wounded in clashes in the Sadr City area of Baghdad - the site of frequent confrontations between Shia fighters and Iraqi and coalition forces.

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