U.S. Secretary of State Visits Middle East

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice is in the Middle East. Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of the Daily Star in Lebanon, talks with Steve Inskeep about the issues she is facing, including funding for the new Palestinian government and the future of Lebanon.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Even as Hamas representatives travel in search of funds, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice is traveling in the same region hoping to convince U.S. allies not to help Hamas.

Rami Khouri has been following her trip. He's editor-at-large of the Daily Star in Lebanon and a regular guest on this program. And he's on the line. Rami, good to talk to you again.

RAMI KHOURI (Editor-at-Large, Daily Star,): Nice to be with you.

INSKEEP: So, how's Secretary Rice doing here in this, what you might call a battle of wallets in the Islamic world?

Mr. KHOURI: I think she's doing as bad as she possibly could, unfortunately, even though this is ironically a history moment where potentially Arab demands and American demands and international legitimacy can all be merged together into a new momentum based on democracy and legitimacy and peacemaking for all.

But the focus of her trip explicitly, publicly saying that she's trying to get the Arabs to stop funding Hamas and to pressure them in the new government, even before the government has been formed and taking the position, that has brought, has generated, a very negative reaction from all the governments she's talked to who've publicly said that they disagree with this position.

So I think her approach is really as imbecilical, if I may use that word, as possible. It's really the worst thing that she could do right now. And she's reaping the responses to that.

INSKEEP: Well, now the Saudis have said that they will help Hamas. Iran has said it will help Hamas. But is it really clear that these countries can provide Hamas with enough support to keep going?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, it's not clear exactly how much money Hamas is actually going to need. And it's not, we're not really talking about Hamas. We're talking about the democratically elected government in the Palestinian Authority, which hopefully will be a national unity government with other people represented and Abu Mazin still president, committed to the peacemaking program and the roadmap with Israel.

So we don't know exactly how much aid is going to be withheld. Some aid that comes from Europe and the U.S. will be diverted, maybe, to humanitarian issues. So the bottom line is not clear.

But I think it is clear that, in the short run certainly, in the next, I would say, six months to a year, the Palestinian government should have no trouble generating assistance to keep the government in Palestine going.

INSKEEP: Now, Rami, we should mention that Secretary Rice also came yesterday to the country where you are, Lebanon. Another issue was at stake here, the future of Lebanon and who's going to influence and control that.

She did not meet with the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon but did meet with other officials. How was that gesture received?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, the happy irony in Lebanon is that, in fact, this is a rare occasion where American policy does coincide with what seems to be the will of the majority here, which is to change the president who seemed to be in a legitimate lingering symbol of the years of Syrian domination.

And I think the majority of Lebanese want the president here in Lebanon to be changed peacefully and democratically and constitutionally. And the Americans have lined up with that position, which is, I think, a very good position for the Americans to take.

But there are people, like Hisbala(ph), who clearly oppose what the Americans are doing. They see it as meddling in internal affairs. But it does offer, I think, a noteworthy counterpoint to the overall American thrust in the region, which is to go against the popular will and to go against legitimately elected groups such as Hamas and other Islamists who are winning power.

So Lebanon is worth watching.

INSKEEP: Do the Americans have the power to influence what happens next in Lebanon?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, they've been very active diplomatically. The ambassador here, Ambassador Feltman, is very high profile and meets all the time with people as does the French ambassador and U.N. representatives.

So I think they certainly have influence. And they've been using it quite energetically. They probably have a majority of people in Lebanon who like the American position. But there's a significant minority that doesn't.

And I think the Americans have taken a very wise go-slow attitude on the issue of disarming Hisbala, for instance. So I think we see signs of the American administration actually being able to take a diplomatic position that is both sensible and realistic and coincides with popular sentiment in the Arab world and...

INSKEEP: OK.

Mr. KHOURI: ...I hope we see more of that.

INSKEEP: All right. Rami, thanks very much. That's Rami Khouri, editor-at-large of the Daily Star in Lebanon. And you're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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