Source AP ©

Saudi Arabia promises to reopen embassy in Iraq, attend US Mideastpeace conferen

Saudi Arabia pledged Wednesday to explore opening diplomatic relations with the Shiite-led government in Iraq, an endorsement long sought by Iraq's U.S. backers.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told the visiting U.S. secretaries of State and Defense that his country will soon send a diplomatic mission to Baghdad "and explore how we can start an embassy in Iraq."

"We expressed our hope that we will work closely with Iraq regarding security aspects, especially terrorism," the foreign minister said.

Al-Faisal also told reporters that Saudi Arabia supports and will attend the Middle East peace conference proposed by U.S. President George W. Bush for later this year.

"When we get an invitation from the minister (Rice) to attend, when this takes place, we will discuss it and we will make sure that we attend" the conference, al-Faisal said.

Saudi Arabia has no diplomatic relations with Israel and its presence at a peace conference with the Jewish State would be a diplomatic breakthrough.

The Arab regional heavyweight has also had frosty relations with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and has not hidden its suspicions that al-Maliki puts does not have the interests of Iraq's Sunni minority at heart.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thanked her Saudi host for considering diplomatic ties, calling it "an important step."

The Arab world has lagged far behind Europe in placing embassies in Baghdad.

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