Rice: Quartet to discuss ME peace

Expects Jan. 29 meeting in Washington; "we want to have a unified effort."

Condi Rice 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Condi Rice 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday she expected the "Quartet" of the EU, Russia, the UN and the US to meet the week of January 29 in Washington to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Speaking after meetings with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Rice told reporters she was planning to set up the meeting near the end of that week, probably February 1 or 2. "I look forward to that meeting as we re-energize the Quartet and its efforts to support the progress in the Middle East that could lead to a two state solution, and Israel and a Palestinian state living side by side in peace, democracy and freedom," she said. Rice said it may still take a "few weeks" to prepare talks between Israel and Palestinian leaders and that she wanted to get the Quartet together in advance of that meeting. "There are a lot of ideas on how we can get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process back on track," she said. "It's going to be a very useful thing because we want to have a unified effort." Rice's visit to Germany, which holds the European Union presidency, comes amid growing pressure for movement in the stalled Middle East peace process. Her stop in Berlin follows a tour of the Middle East region during which she said the US will gather Israeli and Palestinian leaders for a three-way summit. Both Steinmeier and Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom Rice meets Thursday, have been pushing hard to breathe new life into the Quartet as part of the solution. Steinmeier said that while the onus is on the Israelis and Palestinians to discuss aspects of the peace process, the Quartet can perform a "steering function." "I have always pleaded for the Quartet so that we don't always have competing ideas and suggestions," he said. Steinmeier said Rice's initiative in the Mideast is "more than a charm offensive: It's a real willingness of the US government to help the stabilization efforts in the region with a goal toward peace." Rice again defended the US military's detention of last week of six Iranians working at a liaison office in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, reiterating that Washington accused Iran of financing and training insurgents to make roadside bombs for use against American troops. "We are simply responding to the fact that there are Iranian efforts to assist those who are building explosive devices which are dangerous to our forces," she said. "I think any government would do the same if their military forces were being put in harm's way by another state." She said Iranian support for insurgents in Iraq and its defiance of the UN over its nuclear program were reasons why the US will not hold direct talks with Tehran. "They are both evidence of the fact that Iran is a problem in the international system and is causing difficulties on many fronts," Rice said. "This is not the time to break a long-standing American policy of not engaging with the Iranians bilaterally."