Saudis Back U.S. Troop Increase

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi officials told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday that Arab countries were ready to back a U.S. plan to stabilize Iraq, but that success was the responsibility of the Iraqi government.

"We agree fully with the goals set by the new strategy, which in our view are the goals that -- if implemented -- would solve the problems that face Iraq," Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said at a joint news conference.

Saud and Rice, in Saudi Arabia as part of a regional tour to drum up support for U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to send more than 20,000 new troops to stabilize Iraq, also said it was up to Iraqis to make the plan work.

"Implementation also requires a [positive] response by the Iraqis themselves to these goals," Saud said.

"We hope to contribute as an Arab group to reach the objectives of the strategy in seeking national reconciliation that will allow all Iraqis to gain confidence in the state dealing with them on equal basis," he added.

Rice held talks Monday with Jordanian King Abdullah II on violence in neighboring Iraq -- which both countries accuse Iran of fomenting -- and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

A Saudi official said Monday that Iran had asked Saudi Arabia, a U.S. ally, to help ease tensions between the Islamic republic and the United States, as Washington held out the possibility of "engagement" with Tehran if it changed tack in Iraq.

An Iranian newspaper on Tuesday quoted a foreign ministry official denying a request for mediation.

Both Rice and Prince Saud played down talk of mediation.

"There is no need for mediation between the United States and Iran," Rice said, referring to a standoff over Iran's nuclear program, which she said was between Iran and the United Nations, not Washington.

"There is no need for mediation," Saud said, but added: "Our relations with the United States are long-standing. ... Iran is a neighbor of Saudi Arabia, so obviously we hope to avoid any conflict."

Bush has vowed to stop what he said was Iranian interference in Iraq.

U.S. forces are holding five Iranians after raiding an Iranian government office in the Iraqi city of Arbil last week -- the second such operation in Iraq in the past few weeks.

The Saudi foreign minister declined to say what Riyadh would do if the new U.S. strategy failed to pacify Iraq, but rejected suggestions that Saudi Arabia would use oil as a political tool to pressure Iran over its policies in the region.