JOHN YDSTIE, host:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East trying to drum up support for President Bush's Iraq plan. She says she's trying to empower moderates to counter rising extremism, not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East. Rice met one of those moderates today, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.
NPR's Michele Kelemen is traveling with the secretary and filed this report.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Rice seemed mainly to be in listening mode at the heavily guarded presidential compound in Ramallah.
Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (Secretary of State): I have heard it loud and clear the call for deeper American engagement in these processes. The United States is absolutely committed to helping to find a solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in security, in which they can live in peace.
KELEMEN: Rice said she would try to build on Abbas's recent meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinians complain that Israel hasn't followed through on any of the confidence-building measures announced at the time. Abbas was clearly hoping for something a bit more tangible to help him in his power struggle with Hamas and show Palestinians that he can deliver on a peace process. Speaking through an interpreter, he repeated the need for a credible peace process that would end Israel's occupation.
President MAHMOUD ABBAS (Palestinian Authority): (Through translator) We have also noted to Minister Rice our refusal to any temporary or transitional solutions, including a state with temporary borders, because we do not believe it to be a realistic choice that can be built upon.
KELEMEN: The issue of U.S. aid also came up during the visit to Ramallah. The Bush administration has been consulting Congress, hoping to reprogram $86 million to help bolster Abbas's security forces. Some analysts fear this could simply fuel the violence between Abbas's Fatah movement and Hamas. But Rice has insisted the U.S. isn't just sending in arms; this is part of a plan worked out by General Keith Dayton.
Ms. RICE: It is a classic train and equip program that - tailored, obviously, to the circumstances of the Palestinians. But it will unfold over a period of time according to a plan that General Dayton has worked out.
KELEMEN: On the plane over here, she said the worst outcome would be that the Palestinians devoted to the peace process are unharmed, while Hamas, which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, is armed.
This is Rice's third visit to the region since October, and she says in a sign of her personal commitment to the issue, she's having longer than usual meetings. Her visit to Ramallah, including the press conference, lasted about three hours before the motorcade sped back to Jerusalem. Last night, she held a series of meetings with Israeli officials, among them Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Ms. TZIPI LIVNI (Foreign Minster, Israel): Part of our responsibility is to give the moderate Palestinians a political horizon, while providing the Israelis security in Sderot, a place in which they're being attacked on a daily basis and elsewhere. And this is, of course, part of any process.
KELEMEN: Israeli media said the strategic affairs minister, Avigdor Lieberman, told Secretary Rice that an Israeli military operation in Gaza is only a matter of time. Secretary Rice refused to speak about her conversations with Lieberman. She said simply Abbas is trying to improve the security situation in Gaza.
Secretary Rice is having dinner this evening with Jordan's King Abdullah in Amman. The next part of the trip, she hopes to rally support among Arab leaders for Iraq's government, though she's likely to hear appeals to get more deeply involved in Middle East peacemaking.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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