Rice Plans Mideast Summit in Coming Weeks
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East, promising leaders there that she will work to revive the long-dormant Arab-Israeli peace process.
Today, she announced that she would sit down together with Israel's prime minister and the president of the Palestinian authority soon, to talk about what a future Palestinian state would look like. NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary, and she filed this report from Riyadh.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Secretary Rice says she wants to show the Palestinians what sort of state they might have. She uses the words: a political horizon. So, she says, she'll meet with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and put all the major issues on the table.
Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): The parties haven't talked about these issues for a long time. It's been at least six years since they talked about these issues. It seems wise to begin this - what President Abbas has called an informal discussion, to just really sit and talk about the issue.
KELEMEN: Rice met with Mahmoud Abbas and Ehud Olmert separately on this trip, and though her aides say she didn't come with any specific initiative, she did want to show some initiative. But with Olmert so low at the polls and with Abbas at odds with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, there are few expectations that the two men can deliver. But Rice says it's too early to predict her efforts will end in frustration.
Ms. RICE: The one thing that you do not want to do is to try to rush to formal negotiations before things are fully prepared, before people are fully prepared. But that doesn't mean that there can't be progress as we're moving along.
KELEMEN: Rice was speaking in Luxor, where she skipped visiting the ancient Egyptian temples on the Nile River to go straight into meetings. Her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, has been lobbying the U.S. to get more involved in Middle East peacemaking.
Mr. AHMED ABOUL GHEIT (Foreign Minister, Egypt): We in Egypt feel that the endgame is important, that perceptions on what do we mean by the endgame.
KELEMEN: His attention quickly turned to Iraq and President Bush's plan to send more troops to Baghdad.
Mr. ABOUL GHEIT: We are hopeful that the plan would lead towards the dismantlement of whatever terror organizations, as well as the military militias that are tormenting the Iraqi scene. Of course, helping Iraq to help itself is to work for certain amendments to the constitution, also, to allow all factions and all Iraqi colors and all Iraqi forces to be on board on the process.
KELEMEN: In other words, more inclusion of Sunnis. Sunni Arab leaders are skeptical about how Iraq's Shiite-dominated government will try to get a handle on sectarian violence. Rice has been trying to assure them that President Bush's plan is meant to be evenhanded.
One reporter questioned Rice as to why the U.S. is asking for Egypt's help in Iraq, when it seems to ignore Egypt's warnings - especially about the execution of Saddam Hussein. News today, of two more executions and the gory details of the hangings, forced Secretary Rice into an awkward position.
Ms. RICE: I would be the first to say that we were disappointed that there was that there was not greater dignity given to the accused, under the circumstances. And I think that it did not reflect well on the Iraqi government that it came out that way.
KELEMEN: Rice is trying to persuade Sunni leaders in the Arab world to help Iraq's government, a dominant theme in her meetings here in Saudi Arabia, and tomorrow with Gulf leaders in Kuwait. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Riyadh.
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