Rice in Mideast for fresh start
Urges creativity, resolve to revive peace process
JERUSALEM -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explored opportunities yesterday for a fresh start in the stalled effort at a political compromise between Israel and the Palestinians. At the start of a weeklong trip to the region, she warned that an enduring peace cannot be stamped "made in America."
Rice said she did not carry a specific plan and she tried to lower expectations for quick changes. Any progress would require political risk-taking from weakened Israeli and Palestinian leaders, and some resolution to escalating divisions in the Palestinian ranks.
One idea on the table is a bold stroke -- sketching the rough outlines of an eventual Palestinian state even though that day is far off. Other approaches include finding ways to speed up elements of an existing US-backed peace plan.
"This is a very important and challenging time in the Middle East, but a time that I believe does have promise if we exercise our responsibilities with creativity and with resolve," Rice said before an evening meeting with Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni .
Her references were to new strategies and the underlying commitment to freeze the ruling Islamic Palestinian Hamas faction and others she branded extremists, bent on denying peace and democracy to the rest of the Middle East.
"We are determined to resist their efforts, but also to strengthen the hands of those who wish to resist their efforts," Rice said.
The United States wants to move more swiftly to shore up the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas . He is in a power struggle with Hamas and grasping for ways to demonstrate progress. Abbas has told US diplomats he needs to offer Palestinians a vision of a political future that makes the frustrating effort to seek peace with Israel seem worthwhile.
To reward Abbas for standing firm against Hamas, the Bush administration soon will ask Congress to approve $85 million to train and equip Abbas' s security forces. Israel supports the plan.
"Part of our responsibility is to give the moderate Palestinians a political horizon while providing the Israelis security," Livni said.
Ahead of Rice's visit, the Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, contended yesterday that Israel and the United States were trying to fan the flames of a Palestinian civil war.