– 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,”
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
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
“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,”
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.”
of the secretary’s remarks is available on the
State Department’s Web site.
Washington File Staff Writer