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Rice in Egypt for Talks on Iran, Middle East Peace

Morning Edition: October 3, 2006

Rice in Egypt for Talks on Iran, Middle East Peace


Secretary of State Rice is expected to meet with the ministers of eight Arab countries today in Cairo. From the Egyptian capitol, Financial Times correspondent William Wallace is covering her visit.

Good morning.

Mr. WILLIAM WALLACE (Correspondent, Financial Times): Good morning to you.

AMOS: Is Iran also a big agenda item on this leg of the trip?

Mr. WALLACE: I think Iran is very much the priority of concerns for the Arab ministers who will be meeting Secretary Rice. There are three concerns, however. One is the rising influence of the Iranian regime in the region; one is the spillover from the conflict in Iraq; and I think overall, there are deep concerns about the radicalization of the region.

AMOS: You’ve listed three concerns. What do they want her to do?

Mr. WALLACE: Well, I think these are three threats to the stability of the region. Most of the Arab countries that are pro-Western believe that there’s only one real solution to those threats to stability, and that is to move forward on the Middle Eastern peace process. So I think they’ll be stressing very strongly to Secretary Rice, that there needs to be a comprehensive framework to start dealing with the problems between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

AMOS: Washington officials here have been playing down this meeting, saying not to expect much. Do you think the regional players have bigger expectations than what Washington is willing to give?

Mr. WALLACE: I don't think they have bigger expectations. I think, in fact, they’re actually quite cynical about what can be achieved. What they do have is a greater sense of urgency. They don't see doing nothing about the problems between the Israelis and the Palestinians as an answer. They believe that doing nothing will lead to another conflagration in the region in the relatively near future.

AMOS: One of the things that you hear in Washington is this idea of getting the moderates to confront the radicals. Is that possible in the region and does Washington play a role in that?

Mr. WALLACE: I think increasingly you are getting a sense that moderates are at least at odds with radicals. Whether they can actually confront them and come out on top is another matter. So far the momentum has been going in the other direction. You’ve seen Iranian influence spreading. You’ve seen Syria able to influence events considerably. And you’ve seen some of the so-called moderates Arab regimes wrong-footed in the region, particularly over the conflict in Lebanon. And this has tended to put the momentum on the street, if you like, more in the direction of the radicals.

AMOS: Do you think that the U.S. administration is moving fast enough in the region for the likes of these Arab governments?

Mr. WALLACE: I think there’s a sense among Arab governments that the U.S. has a very different agenda, and that even Secretary Rice’s visit has quite a lot to do with domestic U.S. politics. And there’s a danger that it will just be grandstanding, it will be making a show of making some progress, without any real substantive and concrete measures to move things in a different direction.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

Mr. WALLACE: Thank you too.

AMOS: William Wallace is a correspondent for The Financial Times. He’s based in Cairo.

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