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Rice Previews Middle East Trip

Secretary of State to discuss Gaza disengagement, democracy, on trip to West Bank and Jerusalem

Posted: June 17, 2005


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice previews Middle East trip in a June 16 press conference.
Washington – The upcoming Israeli disengagement from Gaza and democratic reforms in the Middle East will be at the top of the agenda as Condoleezza Rice takes her third trip to the region since becoming secretary of state.

In a June 16 press conference, Rice said that her primary reason for going to Israel and the Palestinian Territories at this time is to talk to the parties about the preparations being made for Israel’s planned disengagement from the Gaza strip. The plan calls for Israel to evacuate 21 settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank in August.

Responding to a question about contacts between European Union officials and the Palestinian militant group HAMAS, Rice said the U.S. policy with regard to the HAMAS has not changed. She said the United States would continue dealing with the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Following her visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, Rice will go to Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. She said democratic reform would be an important topic of discussion in her meeting with the leaders of those countries.

“I hope to talk with all of these nations about the changes that are sweeping the region and about their responsibilities as very central members of the Arab world to promote change in the Middle East,” she said.

Asked about the recent constitutional reforms in Egypt, which will open the upcoming presidential elections to a limited number of opposition candidates, Rice offered a mixed opinion.

“Is it enough? I think on an absolute scale, no. More needs to be done. But the trend line here is a positive development, and it’s one we’re going to encourage,” Rice said. She said the multi-candidate elections are an important first step, but not the last step toward democratic reform in Egypt.

Rice added that the international community will watch Egypt’s elections very closely to see whether opposition candidates are granted access to the government-controlled press and whether the atmosphere is conducive to freely contested elections. She also said that she hopes to see international observers monitoring the electoral process.

The secretary was less optimistic about Iran’s elections. Noting that more than 1,000 presidential candidates were disqualified by the unelected Guardian Council, she said, “The process certainly matters, and when you have thousands of people and women as a class … arbitrarily, as far as I can tell, told that they cannot run … I can’t see how one considers that a legitimate election.”

Rice said that Iran is actually moving backward on the path of political reform. She said that the Iranian Majles was much more open several years ago, but that reform-oriented deputies had been prevented from running in subsequent elections.

The secretary said the United States will watch to see if Iran commits to a course of political reform, nuclear nonproliferation, supportive foreign policies and a rejection of terrorism following the elections, but she remains pessimistic that the elections, as they are structured, would produce any improvement in the situation.

Following her trip to the Middle East, Rice will travel to Brussels, Belgium, to participate in an international conference on Iraq. She said the purpose of this conference was to provide political support to the new Iraqi government. The secretary stressed that Iraqi reconstruction must ultimately be an Iraqi enterprise and not an American or coalition enterprise.

“Iraqis are becoming more and more capable every day of handling their own affairs. Their political situation and their administrative role are almost completely Iraqi now. So it will be too with their security forces,” she said.

The secretary also spoke about reform movements at the United Nations, saying that it is important for everyone to focus on the true reform needs.

“I know that there is a lot of interest in Security Council reform, and I think we’ve signaled now that we are prepared to discuss expansion of the Security Council,” Rice said, “but we are not prepared to have Security Council reform sprint out ahead of the other extremely important things that have to take place: management reform, secretariat reform, peace building, issues about non-proliferation, issues about how we build a democracy fund. These are core to what the U.N. is.”

A transcript of the secretary’s remarks is available on the State Department’s Web site.

David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

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