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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit Middle East, Europe

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to visit Middle East, Europe
WASHINGTON: Israel will be the first stop for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she sets out Friday on a weeklong tour of the Middle East and Europe.
Rice also will visit the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and Britain, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday.


He said Rice will have extended discussions on "how to address and confront various threats" that exist in the Middle East. On the Israel-Palestinian front, she will seek ways to "exploit openings that we believe exist," he added.
Other issues on her agenda, he said, will be Lebanon, Iraq and the "common threat posed by Iran and other proponents of violent extremism."
In Kuwait, Rice will attend a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council that also will include participation by Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The trip is part of a long-promised effort to promote an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. McCormack said that issue "will not come to closure" during her travels.
He said Rice also will travel on a subsequent trip to Paris for a Lebanon donors conference on Feb. 24-25.
Afif Safieh, head of the PLO mission to the United States, said he hoped the trip "would be more ambitious" than her last ones. On her two last visits, she induced Israel to relax checkpoints that hamper travel by Palestinians and they were tightened again afterward, he said.
Minimally, Safieh said, he would like to see Rice arrange a cease-fire on the West Bank, promote the release of 10,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel, open checkpoints and persuade Israel to remit about $700 million (€537.7 million) collected from Palestinians in taxes that could ease economic hardships of some 1 million Palestinian Authority workers and their families.
The withholding of payments to about 165,000 workers "has created further havoc in Palestinian society," he said.
Safieh said the Bush administration should abandon its "perceived complacency" and make arrangements for a Middle East peace conference that he said Syria, Lebanon and Palestinians belonging to Fatah and Hamas factions would attend.

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