NEWS ALERT: Secretary Rice to Return to Middle East

From Reuters: 

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will leave for the Middle East and Europe on Friday in another U.S. drive to revive stalled Arab-Israeli peace efforts and stabilize Iraq.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on Tuesday Rice would visit Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Germany and Britain on her trip, which starts on January 12 and ends on January 19.

Rice also plans to travel to Paris later this month for an international donors conference on Lebanon, said McCormack. Beirut hopes it will raise $4 billion to help its economy recover from a devastating war with Israel last year.

The State Department said last week Rice would focus on three issues during her Middle East trip — making progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace, promoting stability in Lebanon and finding ways to support the Iraqi government to “achieve a more stable, secure situation in Iraq.”

The visit comes just days after President George W. Bush’s planned announcement of his new strategy to tackle the nearly four-year conflict in Iraq.

In his speech on Wednesday, Bush is expected to announce plans to send about 20,000 more troops to Iraq, seeking to salvage the U.S. mission in the unpopular war despite opposition from Democrats who say it will worsen the situation.

Bush’s new plan is also expected to include setting “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government to meet, aimed at easing sectarian violence and stabilizing the country.

Middle East analysts are skeptical of any real progress on the Israeli-Palestinian issue until the standoff between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas-led government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is resolved.

Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met on December 23 and agreed to try to revive peace negotiations that collapsed in 2000. Hamas, in contrast, has refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist, to respect past peace deals or to renounce violence — three conditions for ending a Western aid boycott.

Washington wants Israel and the Palestinians to return to the U.S.-sponsored “roadmap” peace plan. The United States also plans to provide additional funding to boost Abbas’ security forces.

Rice was last in the region early December when she said after meeting Abbas and Olmert separately that she saw a “little opening” for reviving talks.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Israel, Lebanon, Middle East, Middle East Peace, Palestinians, Two State Solution, U.S. Role

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