Haniyeh: Rice trying to weaken region

Urges Arab moderates not to support US policy as Rice meets allies in Cairo.

October 3, 2006 00:12
4 minute read.
Haniyeh: Rice trying to weaken region

Condi Rice 298.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Tuesday urged moderate Arab countries not to support US policy in the Middle East. Haniyeh spoke as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was meeting in Cairo with eight Arab allies, in hopes of reviving the Arab-Israeli peace process. Rice was also asking moderate Arab countries to shore up moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, at the expense of Hamas. "It looks like Mrs. Rice is adopting the old law, divide and conquer," Haniyeh told reporters in Gaza. "She wants to weaken the states and the nations of the region." "We call on all of the Arab countries not to follow the American plans and not to adopt this policy that aims to divide the region," Haniyeh said. Rice was to meet with Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday. The talks will be the administration's third meeting in less than three weeks with Abbas, whom President Bush called a "man of courage" for trying to revive Mideast peace talks. Rice said earlier Tuesday that the Hamas government could not govern in the Palestinian territories and she urged the Islamic extremist factions to moderate and cooperate with the secular president. "Clearly they cannot govern in a circumstance in which they cannot represent a responsible government before the international system," Rice said during a diplomatic visit to Saudi Arabia. "I would hope that they would take up what I understand to have been many overtures," by Abbas. Rice appealed for an end to fighting among Palestinian factions and said she is looking for ways to strengthen Abbas in his standoff with Hamas. "Innocent Palestinians are caught in the crossfire and we call on all parties to stop," Rice said of the worst Palestinian violence since March. "The Palestinians deserve calm." The secretary of state also told reporters that the international community would have "no option" but to force sanctions on Iran if it did not suspend its uranium enrichment program. The Cairo meeting was a summit the US was holding with moderate Arab leaders in as part of a US drive to solidify a moderate coalition in the region as a counterbalance to the extremism of Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and Hamas. The summit included the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council - Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates - plus Jordan and Egypt. She is also scheduled to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. "When Lebanon happened, I think we got in very stark relief a clear indication that there are extremist forces and moderate forces," said Rice, adding that countries attending the Cairo meeting represented "a group that you would expect to support the emerging moderate forces in Lebanon, in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories. And so I look forward to consulting with them on how we strengthen these forces and what needs to be done." Rice is expected to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a working dinner Wednesday evening. Diplomatic sources said that among the issues on the agenda were ways to strengthen Abbas, the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and the Iranian nuclear issue. She will spend 24 hours here, and is expected to hold separate meetings Thursday morning with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Amir Peretz. Diplomatic officials said that Rice was not expected to bring any grand diplomatic initiative, but that the "reinvigorated" US outreach to the moderates was an attempt to "try to set the stage for something in the future." Rice is expected to press Israel to allow for freer movement in and out of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, as called for under agreements she brokered during a visit here last November. Those agreements also led to Israel's withdrawal the Rafah crossing and the stationing there of EU monitors. Both Olmert and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin have said recently that the agreements governing the Egyptian-Gaza border needed to be reopened because of a continuation of widespread arms smuggling. Diplomatic officials said that American efforts to build a coalition of moderate Arab regimes gained momentum following the recent war in Lebanon, when these regimes realized the danger of Iran-backed Hizbullah, and because of the interest they have in keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Although Rice is not scheduled to visit Lebanon, the last time she was in the region - at the end of July - she paid an unscheduled visit there. Rice also kept up the US administration's tough position vis-a-vis the Syrians. Asked on her way to Saudi Arabia how the US could hope to stabilize Lebanon if it continued to avoid Damascus, she replied that "it took 30 years to get Syria out of Lebanon," and "the notion that somehow they can be a stabilizing force in Lebanon, I just don't see." She said that if Syria wanted to be a stabilizing force in Lebanon, they know what to do: "They know to stop transshipment of weapons from perhaps Iran to Hizbullah. They know to cooperate fully with the Hariri assassination investigation. They know to stop intimidation campaigns against others, other Lebanese leaders. So I don't think they have to be told what they can do to help Lebanon be more stable."

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