Rice in Egypt to rally Arab support

US secretary of state begins four-day trip to the Middle East in southern Egypt.

    Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, arrives at the Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan, Egypt [AFP]

    The summit will confirm an Arab peace initiative launched in 2002 and initially rejected by Israel because of its demand that Israel withdraw from all Arab land captured in 1967.
    Israel and the United States have recently shown some interest in the Arab peace plan and Rice told reporters on Friday that Arab governments could help by adding "active diplomacy" to the initiative.
    "My primary goal is to establish a mechanism, a common approach, that I can use with them in parallel so that we are addressing the same issues," she said.
    Rice will go on to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where she hopes to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a common set of issues to discuss, after scepticism about the U.S. commitment to pursuing peace.


    Rice is also expected to meet Olmert, Abbas and Jordan's King Abdullah.


    Meeting with Egyptian president

    On Sunday morning Rice will have talks with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president.
    Rice's meeting with Mubarak comes as his government pushes through constitutional changes. Egyptians are set to vote on the changes, which the opposition has said could Egypt into a police state, in a referendum on Monday.
    The Egyptian proposals have been criticised by the US.
    "I'm really concerned about it," Rice said on Friday.
    "The Egyptians set certain expectations themselves about what this referendum would achieve and the hope that this would be a process that gave voice to all Egyptians.
    "I think there's some danger that that hope is not going to be met."


    Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egypt's 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

    The opposition has said it will boycott Monday's vote.
    Diplomatic flurry
    Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, is also visiting the region and held talks with Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, on Saturday.
    "It is necessary for the international community to encourage this ongoing peace process," Ban said after the talks, on his first tour of the Middle East since taking office in January.

    Ban Ki-moon is set to meet the
    Palestinian president [AP]

    The UN chief urged the newly formed Palestinian unity government to meet demands set by Western powers.
    Ban has said he will not be meeting Ismail Haniya, the Hamas prime minister of the coalition administration.
    He is set to meet Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and non-Hamas members of the government.
    Olmert has refused to talk to the new Hamas-led Palestinian national unity government because it has not recognised Israel and renounced violence.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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