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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thought Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas a weak disappointment, and she once judged President George W. Bush's signature Mideast peace program unworkable, according to a new biography.
Months into her term as secretary of state in 2005, Rice considered Abbas "a nice man but ineffective," and she worried Abbas was unworthy of the investment in trust and money the US had placed in him, the book says.
At the time, Bush and Rice were publicly trying to bolster Abbas as the more palatable alternative to the late Yasser Arafat. Despite qualms about Abbas, the administration hoped that Bush's second term might see gains in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The Confidante: Condoleezza Rice and the Creation of the Bush Legacy" attributes Rice's judgments on Abbas to interviews with anonymous administration officials, but her reported views closely track those of outside observers at the time.
Palestinian officials said they have not read the book yet. "We'll comment when we see the book. I can't comment before I see it," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, an aide to Abbas.
The book, by Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler, covers Rice's tenures as the first black woman to hold the titles of national security adviser and secretary of state. It concludes that Rice the diplomat is aided by her clout with Bush, but hindered by decisions she and the president made during his first term in office.
Bush's 2003 Mideast peace initiative, called the "road map," envisioned an independent Palestinian state as the culmination of a staged process with benchmarks for both Israel and the Palestinians.
The effort largely crumbled within months of its launch, although the Bush administration continues to use it as a guideline and motivator for both sides. As secretary of state, Rice often holds it up as the only peace document agreed to by all the players - including the Palestinians, Israelis and the United States. The plan also had the backing of the European Union, United Nations and Russia.
The book quotes her, however, as assessing the road map plan very harshly in 2003 when she was Bush's national security adviser.
"The road map is at best a marginal plan. It doesn't work," the book quotes Rice as telling an Israeli counterpart.
The book quotes Bush as calling Abbas' predecessor, Yasser Arafat, "a loser" on whom Bush was unwilling to waste political capital.
European diplomats, and many in the State Department, viewed Arafat as the only Palestinian leader with the street credibility and acumen to strike a lasting deal for peace. Arafat had walked away from a possible US-sponsored deal in 2000, but there were few or no figures of comparable stature in Palestinian politics when Bush and Rice inherited the portfolio the following year.