Rice Continues Quest for Peace in Middle East Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met separately with Palestinian and Israel leaders Sunday as she presses for agreement to move toward the creation of a Palestinian state. Rice said she is taking time to find what is tolerable for each side.
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Rice Continues Quest for Peace in Middle East

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Rice Continues Quest for Peace in Middle East

Rice Continues Quest for Peace in Middle East

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plowed on today with her effort to promote peace in the Middle East. This evening, she spoke with skeptical reporters in Jerusalem.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. State Department): My approach has been, I admit, careful. It's been step by step. I have not been willing to try for the big bang. I don't think that that's where we are. I think there are a lot of moving pieces here. I think the Palestinian unity government was a new factor as of a month ago. And so to take the time to talk to the parties on the basis of the same questions and the same issue I think is well worth the time, and that's what I'm going to try to do. And I can't promise you that I won't have to do that again.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Eric Westervelt was among the reporters Secretary Rice briefed and joins us. Eric, this is Secretary Rice's fourth trip to the Middle East in four months. Has there been any discernible progress?

ERIC WESTERVELT: No, Debbie, no real progress, just incremental, tiny steps. And Secretary Rice concedes she's not expecting, as she put it there, a big bang breakthrough. But in a trip here in January, she spoke about helping the two sides discuss their two-state solution. In February, she returned to the region and facilitated a trilateral meeting with Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but there was no progress out of that meeting.

Now, she's back and talking about helping the two sides find a common agenda, as she put it. But there's no specific proposal on the table on how to push the process forward. The sides remain far apart, and the U.S.-backed roadmap remains stalled, with neither side having implemented even the first phase.

ELLIOTT: What we just heard from Secretary Rice - she mentioned that the creation of the unity government between Fatah and Hamas has complicated the picture. How is Secretary Rice dealing with that complication?

WESTERVELT: She reiterated the U.S. will not meet with members of Hamas, which the West lists as a terrorist group. But Rice today met with Mahmoud Abbas and several of his senior advisers. And tonight, she will meet with Fatah moderates in the new government. She said people such as the new finance minister, Salam Fayyad, are committed to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

So the secretary said the U.S. can work with people like Salam Fayyad and will do so, as she put it, on a case-by-base basis. Now, that's a much different line than Israel. Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has ruled out any direct talks with the new Palestinian government because its platform doesn't meet international demands that it recognize Israel, renounce violence, and abide by past signed agreements.

Politically, Abbas, the Palestinian president, meets those demands, but Olmert has said he'll limit any talks with Abbas to humanitarian issues only, not substantive peace talks. So clearly, the U.S. and Israel differ slightly on how to move forward now that there is this new Palestinian government.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Eric Westervelt in Jerusalem. Thanks so much.

WESTERVELT: Thanks, Debbie.

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