Rice Looks For Arab Help In Israel-Palestinian Peace Effort

Saturday, March 24th 2007, 6:17 pm
By: News On 6

ASWAN, Egypt (AP) _ Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought common footing Saturday with Arab allies with differing approaches to a new Palestinian coalition government that gives Hamas militants equal billing with Western-backed moderates.

``There are different views about the government, for example how durable is it, what is the extent of the agreement on its founding principles,'' said David Welch, the State Department assistant secretary for the Middle East.

He said there also are differences on how far the new government goes toward meeting international demands for recognition and aid.

Welch described the meetings among U.S. and Arab diplomats and security and intelligence officials as ``lively'' and productive.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah al-Khatib told reporters after the meetings that the four Arab representatives ``learned what the U.S. administration is doing on the peace level.''

``We have agreed on the necessity to open a political horizon, as well as the necessity to outline the issues of the final stance,'' he said. ``It is not possible to have the blockade which Palestinian people are being subjected to go on.''

Although the United States was disappointed by terms of the deal announced by the Palestinians a week ago, some Arab allies see it as a respite from internecine Palestinian violence and a possible opportunity to strengthen Palestinian moderates.

U.S. officials are also giving the new government greater maneuvering room than the Israelis have been willing to offer.

A senior Palestinian official on Saturday said Rice should increase pressure on Israel to restart peace talks, warning that the current American diplomatic efforts in the region ``will only lead to frustration.''

The comments by Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a top aide to U.S.-backed President Mahmoud Abbas, came a day before Rice was to meet Abbas. It will be their first meeting since Abbas formally entered a power-sharing pact with the militant group.

Israel, the U.S. and the European Union consider Hamas, which has killed more than 200 Israelis in suicide bombings, a terrorist group. Israel already has said it will not deal with the new government, though it will maintain limited contacts with the moderate Abbas.

``Secretary of State Rice is trying in her visit to explore the political horizon or talk of the future, but her efforts remain modest,'' Abu Rdeneh said in comments broadcast on state-run Palestine TV.

``Shuttle visits to discover the horizons of the peace process without results on the ground will only lead to frustration in the Palestinian and Arab street,'' he added.

Making her fourth trip to the Middle East in four months, Rice planned to shuttle between Israeli and Palestinian leaders who have grown more distant from one another just as the United States asserted a stronger role in drawing the sides together.

Rice arranged meetings in Egypt with diplomats from key Arab states ahead of her sessions in Jerusalem and the West Bank, and before a closely watched gathering of Arab leaders later this month.

Rice wants Arabs to reissue their 2002 offer of blanket peace with Israel in return for territory Israel has occupied since 1967 and agree to a more active role in peacemaking. Some reintroduction of the Arab plan is expected at the summit next week in Saudi Arabia.

More generally, Rice wants to develop an agenda with each side, including on the hardest questions they will face in any eventual peace negotiations.

``What would make this trip a success for me is if I can establish that we have now a common approach to moving forward on developing, articulating a political horizon,'' Rice told reporters before leaving Washington on Friday, referring to the vision of an independent state that she wants to offer frustrated Palestinians.