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In a first reaction to Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's plan to disengage unilaterally from most of the West Bank, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that Washington does not rule out such a move.
"I wouldn't on the face of it just say absolutely we don't think there's any value in what the Israelis are talking about," Rice said in Berlin. She did, however, stress the fact that the US would not endorse any Israeli plan before hearing further details and reiterated the American position of preferring a negotiated agreement to unilateral steps.
The secretary of state added that the US did support Israel's disengagement from the Gaza Strip last summer, which also started off as a unilateral move but, according to Rice, ended up with Israeli-Palestinian coordination.
In his election victory speech on Tuesday, Olmert said that if Israel went ahead with a second disengagement, he would seek the support of the US for such a move. Olmert's plan will lead to an Israeli withdrawal to the line set out by the separation barrier, leaving most of the Jewish settlement blocs under Israeli sovereignty.
While ruling out any negotiations with the Hamas, the US is trying to bolster the leadership of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Rice referred to him as a Palestinian leader committed to the notion of peace in the Middle East. "I think that he still is someone who stands for the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a peaceful resolution of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, someone who still stands for a rejection of terrorism and violence as a way to end that conflict," Rice told reporters on her plane en route to Germany.
At the same time, the State Department has published new guidelines for American diplomats who come in contact with Palestinian officials, to make sure that there is no direct contact with Hamas officials.
According to the new guidelines, US diplomats need to seek information in advance about the Palestinian officials they are going to meet and make sure they are not affiliated with the Hamas. According to US law, any contacts with Hamas are forbidden since it is on the list of terror organizations.