Rice urges Arab peace initiative

US secretary of state says reconciliation with Israel would help the Palestinians.

    Rice, second left, is on a four-day visit to the Middle East to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace [AFP]

    The plan offered across-the-board Arab recognition of Israel if it returned to its 1967 borders, permitted the creation of an independent Palestinian state and allowed Palestinian refugees to return.


    "The secretary emphasised ... the importance of Arab-Israeli reconciliation as an element in [the] broadening of peace but also in helping to establish the track between the Israelis and the Palestinians," David Welch, US assistant secretary of state, said after the talks. 

    Welch and other US officials refused to discuss further details of the discussions in Egypt's Aswan but stressed that Rice had not been looking to pressure her counterparts to take specific proposals to 22-nation Arab League summit.

    The initiative was rejected by Israel because of the demand it withdraw to the 1967 borders but recently, along with the US, Israel has shown some interest in the peace plan.

    Amr Moussa, the Arab League secretary-general, said on Saturday that Arab states had no intention of modifying their initiative to make it more palatable to Israel.
     
    Peace push
     
    "The situation in the region is very difficult and dealing with it depends largely on our ability to make progress in the Palestinian issue"


    Abdelelah al-Khatib, Jordan's foreign minister

    The US secretary of state is on a four-day trip to the region which will include visits to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where she hopes to persuade both sides to agree on a set of issues to discuss in order to restart dialogue. 

    It is her first visit since the Palestinian unity government, including members of the rival Hamas and Fatah factions, was sworn in. 

    Abdelelah al-Khatib, Jordan's foreign minister, welcomed the United States' interest in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
      
    "The situation in the region is very difficult and dealing with it depends largely on our ability to make progress in the Palestinian issue," he said.

    "That is why we encourage this [US] political movement and we hope it will lead to tangible results."

    Jordan and Egypt are the the only Arab countries to have formal relations with Israel, but Saudi Arabia and some Gulf states have had  discreet contacts with the country in past years.
     
    Sunday meeting

    On Sunday, Rice will have talks with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, at a meeting expected to touch on Egypt's domestic politics and constitutional changes which will go to a national referendum on Monday.
       
    Rice has said that the United States was concerned and disappointed by the amendments, which human rights and Egyptian opposition groups have called a step away from freedom and democracy.
      
    Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egyptian foreign minister, dismissed her criticism as unwarranted interference in Egyptian affairs.


    "Only the Egyptian people have the right to say their views on that referendum. ... If you are not [Egyptian], then thank you very much. It's our own development, our own country," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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