Rice in Baghdad to press for reforms
( AP ) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Tuesday for talks with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that were expected to involve a push for more progress on political reconciliation.
Rice flew from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where she was accompanying President Bush on his Middle East tour. Her trip was announced in the Saudi capital as Bush was holding talks with Saudi officials.
"President Bush and Secretary Rice decided this would be a good opportunity for the secretary to go to Baghdad to meet with Iraqi officials to build on progress made and to encourage additional political reconciliation and legislative action," National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
He said Rice, who began talks with al-Maliki in his office, would return to Riyadh Tuesday night.
On Saturday, Bush had commended Iraq's parliament for passing legislation reinstating thousands of former supporters of Saddam Hussein's now-dissolved Baath party to government jobs.
"It's an important step toward reconciliation," Bush said then, after more than a year of prodding by the U.S. for action on the legislation. "It's an important sign that the leaders of that country understand that they must work together to meet the aspirations of the Iraqi people."
At the same time, Bush said more progress was needed.
There was no advance announcement of Rice's trip. In fact, there had been talk that she would hold a news conference Tuesday with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister.