Rice Tells Syria: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

After a much-anticipated meeting between the United States and Syria, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told her Syrian counterpart that, when it comes to pledges to help stabilize Iraq, "actions always speak louder than words."

Rice met with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem for a half hour on the sidelines of a two-day conference about Iraq's future. She said she took the opportunity to air U.S. concerns about Syria's notoriously porous border with Iraq.

"This is an opportunity to help stabilize Iraq," she told reporters after the meeting. "I didn't lecture him and he didn't lecture me."

Later, in an interview with FOX News, Rice said she was not yet convinced Syria would hold up its end of the bargain when she repeated, "I will not be convinced by words as much as by actions."

Echoing a statement made earlier by Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, Rice said there has been "some diminution" in the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq over the last month or so, but added that "there has not been an end to the foreign fighters."

Caldwell said earlier in Baghdad, "There has been some movement by the Syrians ... There has been a reduction in the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq" for more than a month.

Rice described the meeting with Moallem as "professional and "businesslike."

The top U.S. diplomat said she was not seeking a similar meeting with Iran's foreign minister.

The Bush administration has shunned Syria, which it considers a state supporter of terrorism, and last month President Bush assailed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for making a trip to Damascus, saying it sent mixed messages to the Syrian government. But the White House has been under pressure to talk with Syria and Iran, another U.S. opponent in the region.

The Iraqi government is pressing for Rice and her Iranian counterpart to hold talks during the two-day gathering, saying Washington's conflict with the government in Tehran is only fueling the instability in Iraq.

• Visit FOXNews.com's Iraq Center for more in-depth coverage.

Both the United States and Iran had also spoken favorably of a possible meeting, but the chances of that remained unclear.

Rice and the Iranian foreign minister "exchanged pleasantries" over lunch, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. "They said hello, that's about it," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. When asked if the exchange was civil, Gheit told FOX News, "They are civilized people."

Iraq and the United States hope the conference of nearly 50 nations at this Egyptian Red Sea resort will rally international support — particularly from Arab nations — for an ambitious plan to stabilize Iraq.

Iraq is pressing for forgiveness of debt and for Arabs to take greater action to prevent foreign fighters from joining the Iraqi insurgency. Arab countries, in turn, demand his government ensure greater participation by Sunni Arabs in Iraq's political process, echoing the United States.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki opened the conference by urging all countries to forgive his country's enormous foreign debts — estimated at about $50 billion. Another $100 billion has already been written off by the Paris Club of lender nations.

But Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, told the conference only that his country "has expressed its readiness to alleviate some of the debts on Iraq" and was currently in discussions with Iraqi officials to deal with the issue "in line with the regulations and bases of the Paris Club."

Asked why the king could not meet with al-Maliki last week, al-Faisal said he was busy with other matters.

Rice said she told al-Faisal there had been a decrease in violence in Iraq, even though earlier he expressed doubts at such claims, telling FOX News "I wish you could show me some."

Iraqi and U.S. officials had said Saudi Arabia privately had already committed to forgiving 80 percent of Iraq's $17 billion debt.

Al-Faisal, addressing the conference, renewed a Saudi offer of $1 billion in loans to Iraq, on the condition that the money be distributed equally among "Iraq's geographical sectors."

Complete coverage is available in FOXNews.com's Iraq Center.

Al-Maliki pledged to institute reforms to boost Sunni participation but said forgiving Iraq's debts was the only way the country could rebuild.

Rice's meeting with Moallem marked the first such high-level talks since Feb. 2005, when the U.S. withdrew its Syrian ambassador to protest the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria denies it had anything to do with the killing, but U.S. and European officials have since shunned the Damascus government.

Moallem told Rice during their meeting he'd like to see a U.S. ambassador return to Damascus, to which Rice replied "Let's focus on the issue at hand. We don't have a desire to have a bad relationship with Syria," according to State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack.

"Let's see if your government takes all of the actions, as it said it would, to stem this flow of foreign fighters and we'll see if there are any next steps," Rice said, according to the State Department.

Iraq and many Arab countries have been particularly eager, even desperate, for such talks between the United States and its Mideast opponents — saying they are the only way to stabilize Iraq and lessen Iran's growing influence in the region.

Rice has also said she was willing to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, after years of accusations and name-calling between the nations. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had also expressed interest in such a meeting.

During Thursday's session, the two sat on far ends of the large conference hall where the ministers and top diplomats from nearly 50 nations gathered. They both attended a lunch along with the other foreign ministers.

"All of us here today are bound to the future of Iraq. What happens in Iraq has profound consequences which will affect each and every one of us," Rice said in a speech to the conference.

In his speech, Mottaki blamed Iraq's turmoil on "the flawed policies of the occupying powers" — referring to the U.S.

Iraq has offered to mediate between Iran and the U.S., an aide to al-Maliki told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

Al-Maliki told Rice on Wednesday that "a rapprochement must take place between you and the nations of the region to solve the issue of Iraq, particularly Syria and Iran," according to Iraqi Planning Minister Ali Baban, a Sunni.

The U.S accuses Iran of fueling Iraq's violence by arming and backing militants there, a charge Iran denies.

The two-day conference in this Red Sea resort town brings together officials from Iraq, the U.S., Iran, Russia, China, Europe and Arab nations.

FOX News' James Rosen and the Associated Press contributed to this report.