Rice Reports on Mideast Visits to International Peace Partners

By David Shelby
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington – The Quartet for Middle East peace welcomed a report on Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and urged the two parties to continue their constructive dialogue.

Representatives of the Quartet, which includes the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States, met in Berlin February 21 to hear a report on Rice’s recent trip to the Middle East. (See related article.)

After the Quartet meeting, Rice told reporters that the Israelis and Palestinians have opened an important dialogue.  “I think that it is notable that the two have agreed to meet again to talk about a variety of issues.  And I would underscore that when we met in Jerusalem, I was able to hear their views of the political and diplomatic horizon,” she said.  “And so I think there's a broad agenda between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

The Quartet statement reiterated the group’s support for a Palestinian government that respects Israel’s right to exist, renounces violence and adheres to all previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.  The former Hamas-led government refused to adhere to these principles, and the Quartet members are waiting to see if a new national unity government, based on the February 8 Mecca Accords, will accept the international demands. (See related article.)

Rice said these principles are fundamental to the peace process and the eventual creation of a Palestinian state.  “[W]hen one talks about a political horizon, when one talks about peace between Israelis and Palestinians, it has to be on the basis of internationally accepted principles.  How can it be that you will have talks about peace if one party does not accept the right of the other party to exist?  How can it be that you have discussions about peace when a party will not renounce violence?” she asked.

Rice expressed support for Abbas, whom she said is “representative of the broad desire of the Palestinian people to live in peace and to live in security,” and she said the United States would continue to support those who believe in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as set forth in the “road map.” (See full text of the road map.)

In an interview with CNN, Rice defended the international community’s efforts to strengthen Abbas’ security forces as part of a plan to bring greater stability and security to the Palestinian Territories.  “[W]hen you have forces that can be unitary and can be responsive to the authority of the president, then you have the chance for real peace and security,” she said.  “We want to help to build Palestinian security forces that can be part of the solution, not part of the problem, and that can fight terror but can also bring security for the Palestinian people.”

The secretary also urged Arab countries to engage in the Middle East peace process, saying that “when there is a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, everybody in the region … will be more secure.”

A transcript of Rice’s interview with CNN is available on the State Department Web site, as is a transcript of the press availability following the Quartet meeting in Berlin.

For more information on U.S. policy, see The Middle East: A Vision for the Future.