Condi Rice 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Amid talk of renewing direct talks between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is leaving for the region Sunday to explore the chances of reviving the peace process.
The State Department announced the trip Thursday, pointing out that Rice's mission will be to follow up on President Bush's commitment to work on renewing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.
Rice's tour of the region will focus on the moderate Arab countries - Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan which are viewed by the administration as key players in any future peace process and in dealing with the threat of an Iranian nuclear bomb. During her tour, Rice will stop for a 24-hour visit in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and will meet with Olmert and Abbas.
Rice's visit is part of an effort, announced by Bush at the UN General Assembly, to advance the Middle East peace process with Rice serving as the administration's point person for this issue.
Diplomatic sources in Washington said that Rice will not be bringing new ideas to the table and will focus on showing personal involvement in the process and assessing the ability of both the Palestinians and the Israelis to move forward on the basis of the road map peace plan.
Rice's agenda, in her visit to the region, will also include - apart from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - the issues of Iran's nuclear program and the post-war situation in Lebanon.
The US, according to diplomatic sources, senses a new approach coming from the moderate Arab countries and would like to harness this new approach to advance the peace process and block Iran's nuclear aspirations.
The sources said also that ever since the war in Lebanon this summer, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have positioned themselves closer to the American view of the region and are now looking for ways to act to curb Iran's influence on the region. A senior State Department official said several weeks ago that for the moderate Arab countries there needs to be progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for them to join a coalition that will pressure Iran to abandon its nuclear plans.
Rice's last visit to the region took place in July during the Lebanon war and was dedicated to working out a cease-fire between the sides.