(photo credit: AP)
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a stern warning to Iran and chastised Egypt on the eve of her visit to Israel, setting the stage for difficult diplomacy as Rice and US President George W. Bush try to further their agenda in the region.
In an interview with The Jerusalem Post and Y-Net, Rice denounced Iran for threatening US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf this weekend. "Iran should not engage in such provocations. That's what it was and it needs to stop," Rice said. "The US is going to defend its interests. It's going to defends its allies."
She called Iran "the single greatest threat to the kind of Middle East we all want to see," and said that the US has a commitment to Israel's security which it takes seriously.
Rice also rapped Egypt for not doing enough to stop weapons smuggling over the border into Gaza.
"Egypt has to do more. Those tunnels need to be dealt with," she said. "We're prepared, obviously, to give [assistance], but the will to do it is very important here."
Rice and Bush depart Tuesday for their trip to the region, which will be Bush's first since taking office. It is also the first visit by a high-level American delegation since the Annapolis Conference was held in November to launch formal negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Bush administration hopes the visit will give momentum to the negotiating process between the two sides, as well as stir up further support from Arab neighbors to give the efforts legitimacy. The trip will also focus on Iran and the continued threat of its nuclear agenda, despite a recent National Intelligence Estimate put out by the US intelligence agencies which said Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program. They hope to reassure allies of their continuing concern over Iran in the wake of the report.