Kuwait's emir told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Washington should talk to Syria and Iran to improve the situation in Iraq, the Kuwaiti foreign minister said Wednesday.

Sheik Mohammed Al Sabah told reporters that when Rice met Kuwait's emir, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, on Tuesday, she had spoken of the "the difficulties facing the Iraqi government in imposing security, and (difficulties caused by) outside interference."

"That is why his highness (the emir) stressed the importance of a dialogue with (Iraq's) neighbors, and the importance that there is no estrangement between them and America," Sheik Mohammed said.

He quoted the emir as telling Rice it was important to have a "dialogue with Syria, in particular, and with Iran in the interest of Gulf security in general."

Rice was in Kuwait on Tuesday for a meeting on Iraq with her counterparts from the six Arab Gulf states plus Jordan and Egypt.

Speaking at Kuwait airport before flying to Oman, Sheik Mohammed did not reveal what the eight foreign ministers told Rice about the new U.S. plan for Iraq. But he said Rice had told the emir that President Bush had found it difficult to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq, but he had made the decision to prevent the country from slipping into a civil war.

In announcing his Iraq plan last week, Bush rejected the recommendation of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan U.S. panel, which had urged talks with Damascus and Tehran on ways of curbing the sectarian violence in Iraq.

Bush accused Iran and Syria of failing to stop fighters from crossing into Iraq to join the insurgency, and blamed Iran in particular for providing material for attacks on American troops — a charge that Tehran denies.

Iran and Syria are believed to have influence with insurgents in Iraq. Iran has strong ties with Iraqi Shiites, who have powerful militias, and Syria is believed to host senior members of the deposed Baathist regime in Iraq, which is playing a significant role in the insurgency.

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