(photo credit: AP)
"The future of the Middle East is at stake," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the General Assembly in Nashville of the United Jewish Communities Tuesday (video: Click here to watch the address), adding that the US would fight in the battle between extremists and moderates for the future of the region.
Standing before some 3,500 delegates from US Jewish communities, Rice promised the US would not relent in its efforts to isolate Iran until that country ended its support for extremist violence in the Middle East. "The international community must not allow a state to develop nuclear capability" if it threatens to destroy another member state, she said, asking, "how can the idea of an international community have any meaning if we fail this test?"
She explained that the development of a moderate coalition in response to increasing terrorism and the Iranian threat was a central motivation behind the Bush administration's policy of helping Palestinian moderates to show success in their efforts to create a more prosperous and free Palestinian society.
Rice also defended the democracy-focused strategy for dealing with the Palestinians, which led to the election victory by Hamas that has split the Palestinian areas into separate administrative entities. Hamas is now faced with the responsibility of governance, she said, which has forced it to make the choice between "terror and being a political party. Hamas chose violence," she continued, and is now isolated by the international community.
"Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is in the strategic interest of the United States," she added, and affirmed that the US would staunchly defend "its ally Israel." Rice also said that the new peace initiative, represented in the November 26 Annapolis summit, was fundamentally different from previous attempts. Whereas previous negotiations centered around core issues such as refugees and borders, the Bush administration's strategy centered on "addressing the character of a Palestinian State" and seeking to create a democratic one.
Much speculation centered on what Rice would say to the central plenum of American Jewry regarding Annapolis, especially following her visits this month to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in which she reportedly worked to keep Annapolis from becoming an irrelevant parley. Many delegates said they thought Rice would ask organized American Jewry, which has also been largely skeptical on the potential benefits from Annapolis, to support the meeting and encourage the two sides to substantively discuss the issues.
"We intend to hold a serious and substantive meeting in Annapolis," she declared, saying the meeting would "not replace the road map." She did not say what she expected Annapolis to produce, but told the delegates that "we can and must succeed; failure is not an option."
Rice started her 22-minute speech with her experience in the 1970s helping Russian Jews to integrate into American society. At the time, a Sovietologist-in-training who had just returned from studies in Russia, Rice used her Russian to help communicate with the recent immigrants.
This vignette was one of at least a dozen points at which she had to pause due to energetic clapping.
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