Bush: Rice will lead diplomatic Mideast push
Updated: 2006-09-20 11:08

UNITED NATIONS - President George W. Bush said on Tuesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would lead a new diplomatic push to get Israel and the Palestinians to make peace.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (L), pictured with George W. Bush, August 2006. Rice insisted that Al-Qaeda operatives in Iraq were developing weapons of mass destruction prior to the ousting of Saddam Hussein. [AFP]

Bush told the U.N. General Assembly in a speech that Rice would "engage moderate leaders across the region" to help Palestinians reform their security services and help Israeli and Palestinian leaders resolve their differences.

A senior State Department official said Rice had already begun by meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in New York and might visit the Middle East after this week's U.N. session.

The United States wants to bolster support for Abbas, a moderate whose Fatah Party lost elections last January to the militant group Hamas.

Some analysts say the strategy of only seeking out moderates will fail in a region where the public is suspicious of U.S. motives and Bush's freedom and democracy agenda.

There appears to be a widening rift between the Europeans and the United States over how to deal with a new Palestinian unity government agreed announced by Abbas last week but of which details are still sketchy.

EU foreign ministers last week welcomed the announcement of the unity government, which would include both Hamas and Fatah, and said they hoped its platform would "reflect" the international community's demands.

But Washington is more wary and there is still confusion over exactly how far a new unity government will go in meeting international demands that it recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept past peace accords.

The differences could come to a head when foreign ministers of the Quartet -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- meet at U.N. headquarters on Wednesday.


Later on Tuesday, Rice will meet Jordan's King Abdullah. On Wednesday, apart from the Quartet meeting, she will also meet with foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council.

"The focus of her discussions has and will be on how to build Palestinian security institutions and to strengthen other institutions," said the official, who asked not to be named according to department rules.

She would also urge greater contact between Israel and Abbas. Livni and Abbas met on Monday in New York and spoke of reviving the Middle East peace drive.

Last year Rice helped to broker an agreement allowing for the passage of goods and people between Gaza and Israel. The State Department official said Rice would be pushing for the proper implementation of this.

Rice last visited the region in July when she tried to assure Abbas that the United States was still committed to the Palestinian issue and had not been diverted by the war between Lebanon and Israel.

The United States spearheaded an international aid embargo against the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. While it talks to Abbas, Washington has said it will not deal with Hamas until it fulfills all conditions laid down by the Quartet.