Rice Seeks Common Approach to Mideast Peace on Trip
24 March 2007
Calls upon "Arab Quartet" to relaunch diplomatic initiative
Washington – The United States is seeking agreement on a common approach to the Arab-Israeli issue that can advance the cause of peace and an eventual two-state solution supported by all the parties in the region, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a press roundtable on the eve of a trip to the Middle East.
Rice is scheduled to travel to Aswan, Egypt; Jerusalem; the West Bank city of Ramallah; and Amman, Jordan, March 23-27.
One element in developing a common agenda would be for the nations comprising the "Arab Quartet" to resubmit Saudi Arabia's initiative for Arab-Israeli reconciliation – along with a commitment to follow up on the proposals with vigorous diplomacy and engagement, according to Rice.
The Arab Quartet comprises Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The positive element of the Saudi peace initiative, according to Rice, is that it recognizes that any Israeli-Palestinian agreement "needs to be accompanied by an Arab-Israeli reconciliation." (See related article.)
This is already Rice's third trip to the Middle East in 2007 – and reflects the importance that the United States is giving the issue, according to President Bush. Bush telephoned a number of Middle East leaders in the days before Rice's trip to urge their continued support for the peace process. (See related article.)
"My primary goal is to establish a mechanism, a common approach, that I can use with in parallel so that we are addressing the same issues," Rice said. "That's really the key right now."
Rice praised the diplomatic efforts of Saudi Arabia and Arab League President Amre Moussa to break the political deadlock in Lebanon between the government of President Fouad Siniora and Hezbollah. All states should work to ensure that the Lebanese government is neither undermined nor overthrown, Rice said, noting that many people seemed surprised at the resiliency of the March 14 ruling coalition and the Siniora government itself.
She also said that the international community should continue to help the Lebanese bring the murderers of Rafik Hariri to justice. "That's very important work," she said. (See related article.)
Rice credited Siniora for "tirelessly" making the case that he represented the duly elected government of Lebanon and deserved the peoples' support.
Asked about the dispute between Iran and Russia over the nuclear power facility at Bushehr, Rice stressed that the United States has never challenged the legitimacy of the project.
Bushehr is a civil nuclear power facility subject to full inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – and the fuel supply comes from an outside supplier, in this case Russia, according to Rice.
In the current dispute, she said, Russia is making its own judgments about whether the Bushehr project is affected by Iran's unwillingness to suspend its reprocessing activities and cooperate fully with the IAEA. (See related article.)
Rice expressed concern that the upcoming constitutional referendum in Egypt will not meet the expectations for political reform, although she noted that the recent presidential election represented some limited democratic progress. (See related article.)
"As the Middle East moves toward greater openness and greater pluralism and greater democratization," Rice said, "Egypt ought to be in the lead of that. And it’s disappointing that this has not happened."
Rice said that the United States wants to close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba as soon as possible, and called upon greater assistance from the international community.
Quoting a U.S. defense official, Rice said, "'This isn't an American problem. This is an international problem. And I have said to my colleagues around the world, if you tell us that you don't like Guantanamo then help us find solutions to this issue."
The problem, she added, is that the Guantanamo facility holds dangerous people who cannot be held or tried in other countries, and are too dangerous to release. (See related article.)
A transcript of Rice's remarks is available at the State Department Web site.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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