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U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to the media before talks at the chancellory on Thursday in Berlin. Germany currently holds the European Union Council presidency.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak to the media before talks at the chancellory on Thursday in Berlin. Germany currently holds the European Union Council presidency. Carsten Koall/Getty Images
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Berlin as efforts continue to sell allies on President Bush's new Iraq strategy, and to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Her trip to the Middle East appears to have yielded mixed results.
RM: A former Secretary of State, James Baker, and the Iraq Study Group that he co-chaired, urged a diplomatic push on Iraq. But noticeably, Condoleezza Rice isn't holding discussions with Iraq's neighbors Iran and Syria, and the Bush administration clearly doesn't plan to.
MK: That's right. This was a really much different approach than the Iraq Study Group recommended. Rather than reaching out to all of Iraq's neighbors, Secretary Rice has tried to divide them in groups. So you have the moderates, the Arab allies with whom she met, and won some support for the president's plan for Iraq — those are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Gulf states. And that's versus the extremists. And she accuses Iran and Syria of fueling extremism in Iraq.
Now, many in the region are worried about Iran's influence, not only in Iraq, but in the whole region. You had the Gulf Cooperation Council, which met her in Kuwait, and they issued this, sort of, veiled threat to Iran to stay out of Iraq. It didn't mention Iran by name however.
You can really see these countries, sort of, hedging their bets. I mean, they're close neighbors to Iran. They have to deal with Iran. And right after we left Kuwait, Kuwait's foreign minister told reporters that the emir urged Rice to actually talk to Iran and Syria.
RM: But she is not talking to Iran and Syria. What did Rice say about how she's approaching the conflicts in the Middle East?
MK: Toward the end of this trip, we were all sitting at this guest house in Kuwait, and she sat down to talk with the reporters traveling with her about her views. And she talks about this new realignment in the Middle East. And she says that diplomacy only works when you get the context right.
She often cites examples from her own dealings, her own workings in the government. She talks about German unification, that that could only happen when it did.
And this was a quote that stood out for a lot of us. She said: "You aren't going to be successful as a diplomat if you don't understand the strategic context in which you're actually negotiating. It's not deal-making. It's not."
And so, many of us on the trip were left wondering, then, what this trip is about, if we're just waiting for the right context.
RM: What about the Arab-Israeli issue? Was there any progress there?
MK: Well, that's an area where it looks like the context is all wrong. Because you have the Israeli prime minister very weak in the polls, [and] you have Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, running the Palestinian government. So what she tried to do there was really help the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who's from a rival faction, the Fatah movement, which is at odds with Hamas, and tried to give him a boost.
So what she did was, she announced that she'll be meeting, holding a trilateral meeting, with Palestinian President Abbas, and with Israel's President Ehud Olmert, to talk about the contours of a Palestinian state. So you see her really tiptoeing into the Israeli-Palestinian issue in a way that the Bush administration has been resisting up to now.
And here in Europe, she's also telling the Europeans that, in addition to this trilateral meeting, we're going to try to revive this "quartet," which is the U.S., Russia, European Union and United Nations. And she announced that this group of would-be Middle East peacemakers are going to meet probably in Washington in early February.