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Rice Sees 'Intense' Middle East Peace Efforts in Coming Weeks

18 January 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she expects the pace of contacts on Middle East peacemaking to accelerate following a trip to the region in which she arranged a three-way meeting with Israeli and Palestinian leaders on final-status peace issues. Rice ended her week-long overseas trip with stops in Berlin and London to brief German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on her mission. VOA's David Gollust reports from London.

Rice says the flurry of activity will begin with a February 2 meeting in Washington with the international Middle East Quartet, the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

It will continue with regional shuttling by senior U.S. diplomats, and be capped by Rice's meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas at an undetermined Mideast venue in mid-February.

The three-way meeting, the main achievement of the Rice trip, will be the first discussion of the final status issues of the peace process, among them refugees and borders of a Palestinian state, since former President Clinton's unsuccessful drive for an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord at the end of his term in 2000.

In a talk with reporters traveling with her in London, Rice said conditions in the Middle East are, on balance much more conducive for progress since the Clinton bid for an agreement, and she said is prepared to do whatever she can personally to advance an agreement for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian settlement.

"I am going to be concerned about what we can get done when and how," she said. "And I obviously have been out here a lot and I expect I will be out a lot again. I am aware that it takes not just deal-making and shuttle diplomacy to make it work. It also takes certain circumstances and certain commitments and I think we've actually been creating those circumstances or helping to create those circumstances over the last several years."

Rice discussed the Bush administration's new Iraq strategy, including a surge in U.S. troop strength to try to help stabilize Baghdad, in stops in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where she met foreign ministers from across the Gulf region.

But Rice surprised many analysts by not making a Baghdad stop on this trip. In her talk with reporters, she downplayed suggestions of a rift with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who bitterly criticized a recent comment by the secretary that his government was "living on borrowed time."

Rice said she is sorry Mr. al-Maliki took offense to the remark, which she said was intended to convey a sense of urgency about the need to subdue Iraqi sectarian violence.

But she said believes she and the Iraqi leader "are on the same page" with regard to what needs to be done, and that she expects to visit Baghdad again soon.

"I have been to Baghdad I think six times and I'm sure I will go again," she said. "It seemed to be that it made sense to let the Iraqis have some time to get their plans in order, to get ready to launch those plans. [U.S. Defense Secretary] Bob Gates was just there, and it wasn't for my mind the right time to go but I'm sure we'll go some time in the near future."

Rice rejected the notion that there is broad support among Arab states for the United States to engage Iran on the Iraqi issue and said at the meeting with eight regional foreign ministers in Kuwait this week, only one made such a recommendation.

Rice said the United States has no problem with the Iraqi government trying to achieve normal state-to-state relations with Iran. But she made clear the United States will not do so while Iran is engaged in what she said are activities that endanger U.S. troops in Iraq.

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