Rice to nudge both sides during brief visit

Sec. of State urges PA to fight terror, Israel to ease passage.

rice sharon at dinner298 (photo credit: American Embassy in Israel [file])
rice sharon at dinner298
(photo credit: American Embassy in Israel [file])
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed the Saban Forum 2005 at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem Sunday night, immediately after arriving from Saudi Arabia. While in the Arabian peninsula, she told the traveling press that she would question Sharon about fulfilling commitments he made at the Sharm e-Sheikh summit earlier this year. Sharon, who spoke first at the forum, said that Iran and Syria stand at the head of what President George W. Bush labeled the "axis of evil." He said the two countries were headed by "irresponsible leaders who take extreme stands which threaten the stability of the area. These countries encourage the activities of radical terrorist elements, provide shelter for them, guide them, train them and fund them." Sharon termed the toppling of Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime a "courageous and important step, which only occurred because of President Bush's determination and leadership. If there had been no war in Iraq, the region would continue to be at the mercy of this dangerous and irresponsible leader." Each of these messages found a strong echo in Rice's remarks, who, in turn, said that as the Iranian government is "growing more divorced from its citizens," it is becoming more and more threatening. Referring to the calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, Rice said that "no civilized nation should have a leader" who wishes, hopes or desires to push another country "into the sea." This is simply "unacceptable," she said. Turning to Syria, the secretary said the nation has "increasingly isolated itself from the international community" through its meddling in its neighbors' affairs and support of terrorism, adding that "the UN is now holding Syria accountable." Regarding Iraq, Rice said: "We have hope for peace because Saddam is no longer terrorizing his people, threatening his region, and paying families of suicide bombers. Instead he is sitting in prison awaiting trial for his many crimes." She called on Israel to grant the Palestinians more freedom of movement and implored the Palestinians to tackle terrorism. The possibility of peace would be more potent if "the Palestinians fight terrorism and violence and advance democratic reform, and Israel takes no action to prejudge the final talks and works to improve the daily lives of the Palestinians,” she added. She said that more Israelis have come to recognize that a democratic Palestinian state is in Israel's security interest. Touching on what is expected to be one topic of discussion when she meets Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for a working breakfast Monday morning, Rice said that "greater movement is a key for Palestinians, for shopkeepers, farmers and restaurant owners, as for all who seek easier access to economic livelihood." During their speeches, Sharon and Rice seemed on exactly the same page regarding Iran, Syria and Iraq. Rice made it clear, however, that she had come for this quick visit not only to nudge Sharon, but to push Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas as well. Rice said that the PA's dismantling of the terrorist infrastructure is essential "because in the final analysis no democratic government can tolerate armed parties with one foot in politics and one foot in the camp of terror." Sharon told the forum that "the immediate future is critical for the Palestinian Authority." The prime minister said the PA must "decide if it chooses the path of peace and communication, or if it chooses the path of radical terror and allows the existence of terrorist organizations and their participation in the political system before they disarm." Highlighting a difference with the US administration over the sequence of the road map - Sharon maintains that the PA must dismantle terrorist groups before Israel's obligations kick in - the prime minister said "advancing to the second phase of the road map will be done only after the Palestinian Authority implements the first phase of the plan - by dismantling the terrorist organizations and implementing the comprehensive reforms to which they are committed." The US position on the road map is that Israel and the PA must fulfill their obligations simultaneously. While the US has not come out unequivocally against Hamas's participation in the upcoming elections, Sharon said "we cannot accept a situation in which terrorist organizations do not disarm, yet gain legitimacy for their existence, under the cloak of democracy."