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    Rice, Gates embark on Mideast tour

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    The U.S. state and defense secretaries are starting a Mideast tour to gain Gulf states' support on Iraq, curb Iran's growing ambitions and promote the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, the State Department and aides said.

    WASHINGTON, 30 July (RIA Novosti) - The U.S. state and defense secretaries are starting a Mideast tour to gain Gulf states' support on Iraq, curb Iran's growing ambitions and promote the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, the State Department and aides said.

    Diplomatic sources in Washington said Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates would travel to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to meet with foreign ministers from Egypt and Jordan, and from the Gulf Cooperation Council, which comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. They will then travel to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi King Abdullah.

    President George W. Bush announced the tour July 12. "They will meet with our allies, re-emphasize our commitment to the international compact of Sharm el-Sheikh, reassure our friends that the Middle East remains a vital strategic priority for the United States," he said.

    Rice will then visit Israel to speak with Palestinian and Israeli officials and return to Washington August 2, while Gates will visit Gulf countries.

    Aides to Rice and Gates, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the visit had three main goals: to persuade Iraq's neighbors to increase aid to the violence-torn country, to boost the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, hold back Iran's increasing ambitions in the region and reassure allies of U.S. commitment.

    According to the Washington Post, the agenda also includes $20 billion worth of arms sales to Gulf States, which will include air-to-air missiles, precision guidance systems and the Patriot air defense system.

    NBC television company said Gates had informed Israel that Arab states had the right to buy weapons from other countries, including Russia.

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