US downplays Rice's canceled trip

McCormack rejects notion that move undermines PM at a vulnerable time.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
US State Department officials said Tuesday that America is continuing to work with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert despite citing Israel's political turmoil as the reason Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice won't be traveling to the country next week as planned. Department spokesman Sean McCormack rejected the notion that the move would undermine Olmert at a politically vulnerable time. "We have confidence in Israel's democracy," McCormack said in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post. "We are continuing to work with Prime Minister Olmert and his government on issues of mutual concern." A state department official, speaking on background, told the Post that Rice would be coming to the region in the near future, attributing the delay to a scheduling conflict and downplaying its significance, since the date hadn't been set in stone. But the move raised eyebrows among many watching the US administration's efforts to revive the flagging peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. An Israeli official reportedly told Israel Radio that her cancellation was "unprecedented," particularly as it comes amidst preparatory conversations. Former US ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer told the Post that Rice's decision to skip the trip was "curious," adding that the State Department normally wouldn't point to another country's internal politics as the reason to avoid a trip, even if that were the cause. On Monday, McCormack pointed out that the "political situation in Israel has become a bit more complex in the near term" in explaining Rice's change in plans. Kurtzer said that even so, political uncertainty should not stop Rice from coming. "Israel's political challenges right now would not normally deter a secretary of state," he said. One American Jewish official close to the administration said that the negative response from Palestinians and some Israelis to the new US proposal on benchmarks for each side to take had derailed the purpose of Rice's upcoming trip. But Kurtzer said that also wouldn't be enough to deter US officials from making efforts to secure progress. Arab American Institute head Jim Zogby suggested that the postponement implies that the US isn't fully committed to making a change in the situation of Israelis and Palestinians. "It's an acknowledgement that little can be done," he said.