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Rice's Mission.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice began a Middle East tour in Jeddah on Oct. 2 for six main objectives - all dependent on the way honesty is perceived by the US and its Middle East partners, including Israel and Saudi Arabia - as follows:

- To launch a formal mechanism for a US-led alliance against the "radicals" of the region. This featured a meeting in Cairo on Oct. 3 between her and the foreign ministers of the six Arab Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) states as well as Jordan and Egypt - together representing the Sunni status quo - against what Washington calls an "axis of evil" led by Iran's theocracy and including the Ba'thist dictatorship of Syria, the theocracy's Lebanese offspring Hizbullah and Hamas, the latter being the offspring of the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, etc. This is a revival of the "GCC-plus-two" formula which the first Bush administration in March 1991 set up after a US-led war liberated Kuwait from Saddam's Ba'thist dictatorship of Iraq. Jordan has replaced Syria. Unlike the previous Arab-Israeli peace process which Hafez al-Assad killed in late March 2000 - three months before he died and whose lead of the Ba'th Arab Socialist Party became a "family throne" inherited by his son Bashar - the peace process now is limited to Israel and the Palestinians.

- To back Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah who is being cold-shouldered by Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and undermined by a Hamas political leadership under Khaled Mesh'al who is based in Damascus and influenced by Assad's regime.

- To back Lebanese PM Fou'ad Siniora's government against a coalition of forces sponsored by Tehran and Damascus.

- To build up a diplomatic offensive against both the Shi'ite theocracy of Iran - if this is to be radicalised further after the Dec. 15 polls (see news14-IslamPopeOct2-06) - and the Neo-Salafis of the Muslim world.

- To back Baghdad's government and boost PM Maliki's chances for his national unity cabinet to succeed in bringing about national reconciliation and, at the same time, concentrate on the war against the Neo-Salafis (see rim4-IraqN-SalafiTargetOct9-06).

- To internationalise the Darfur issue in western Sudan, where a Sunni Arab regime and the allied Janjaweed militia have been engaged in what the US and other Western powers call "genocide" against the locals, and put this under a UNSC-authorised mandate.

The Iran-led axis wants to undermine Rice's mission through a variety of actions and arguments. It argues that the Arab world lives in a vacuum which only the Iran-led axis can fill - a point refuted by Turkey, whose PM Erdogan was at the White House talking with President Bush about Iran's nuclear ambitions when Ms Rice flew into Saudi Arabia, and by Israel whose PM Olmert will meet Bush at the White House next month. Iran argues that the real balance of power in the Middle East is in favour of its axis, judging by Hizbullah's success in resisting Israel during the latter's 34-offensive in Lebanon (see news13-SyriaIranVenzSep25-06) and by the mess the US is facing in Afghanistan and Iraq, which Tehran says the Americans cannot end militarily.

The peace road-map backed by the Quartet (the US, EU, UN & Russia) is the basis of PA-Israeli talks. The Arab peace plan, a Saudi initiative adopted by the Arab summit in Beirut in late March 2002, is the basis of the alliance mechanism the US is promoting; but Bush is only taking from this the part concerning Israel and the PA, and the one concerning Syria's Golan Heights, annexed by Israel in the early 1980s, is either dead or awaiting a replacement of the Ba'thist regime acceptable to the alliance. Israeli Minister Ma'ir Shitreet on Oct. 4 repeated his call for Olmert to accept this plan's part on Israel and the PA. The Saudi-Israeli dialogue mentioned in recent weeks is concentrating on this plan.

Ms Rice went to Ramallah on Oct. 4 and held talks with Abbas, whose leadership of the PA the US is trying to bolster in the face of the worst internal conflict in a decade. She acknowledged at a joint news conference with him that the Palestinians were facing a "time of considerable difficulty". Abbas said his talks with Hamas on replacing its cabinet with a national unity government had broken down and hinted that he might dissolve the present cabinet. (Hamas's isolation has hampered its ability to govern and to pay public sector salaries, prompting strikes and protests by employees and security force personnel predominantly linked to Fatah). She said she would make an effort to improve the economic situation of the Palestinian people by trying to ensure greater freedom of movement through crossing points between Israel and the PA territories.

The New York Times on Oct. 5 quoted "donors briefed" by Lt Gen Keith Dayton, Washington's security co-ordinator for the Palestinians, as saying the US was proposing to expand the guard of the PA President to 6,000 men from the current 3,500 in a plan to bolster Abbas and reduce the security chaos in the PA. Dayton is in talks with Abbas to reduce the number of overlapping Palestinian security services in order to create a single national police force. The Americans are pressing Israel and the Palestinians for agreement by Nov. 1 to a plan to re-organise and reconstruct the Palestinian side of the main goods crossing between Gaza and Israel, known as Karni. Israel has often shut Karni due to security threats and Dayton has proposed a project of about $25.5m to build a modern security facility for checking and scanning trucks on the Palestinian side, with the goal of allowing up to 400 trucks a day to leave Gaza with exports. The Americans hope to implement the new procedures for Karni by early November, in time for the harvest and planned exports of cherry tomatoes and other produce. These efforts to improve and regularise the crossing of goods and people into and out of Gaza were an important focus of Ms Rice's visit.

The Dayton plan calls for about 90 international monitors to work with the Palestinians, including an expanded presidential guard, in order "for Palestinians to take responsibility for security and increase Israeli confidence and trust". A donor reported Dayton as having said the plan had received "tacit agreement" from the Palestinians, including from Hamas. The US intention is that the presidential guard control Karni from Gaza, as it currently does at Rafah, between Gaza and Egypt, and that international monitors work with them at each crossing. There are EU monitors stationed at Rafah, but they are threatening to quit both because of Palestinian violations of customs rules and because of the Israeli Army's activities in Gaza, which have kept the crossing shut most of the last few months. Hamas, which brainwashes its people from an early age and teaches them to hate Israel and the West, is among the worst violators as it smuggles arms and explosives from the Egyptian side.

Ms Rice made a surprise visit to Iraq on Oct. 5-6, pressing the country's leaders to move more quickly to deal with sectarian violence. "They don't have time for endless debate of these issues", Ms Rice said before meeting PM Maliki. She flew to Kurdistan for a meeting with Kurdistan's President Mas'oud Barzani on Oct. 6 and urged him to work on a united and pluralistic federation for Iraq, to make sure Kurdistan will not secede.

Ms Rice said Iraqis must resolve for themselves divisive issues such as control of oil wealth and formation of autonomous regions. The visit came just three days after Maliki had announced an initiative of setting up local committees to oversee the security forces (see rim4-IraqN-SalafiTargetOct9-06).
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Title Annotation:Condoleezza Rice
Publication:APS Diplomat News Service
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Oct 9, 2006
Words:1275
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