July 21st, 2007 13:22 EST
Rice Sees New Momentum in Quartet's Middle East Peace Efforts
Washington – The United States has no higher foreign policy priority than the establishment of an independent and democratic Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared during her first visit to Portugal and a meeting of the Mideast Quartet comprising the United Nations, European Union, United States, and Russia.
In the course of her visit, July 19-20, Rice reiterated that the United States, as well as other Quartet members, strongly support President Mahmoud Abbas and his new government headed by Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad. (See related article.)
"The Palestinians have elected a man in Abbas, and a prime minister, who are clearly committed to a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace," she said prior to her trip in an interview with National Public Radio (NPR). "We have the Arabs now far more engaged in this process than before," Rice added.
Secretary Rice ruled out any talks or negotiations at this time with Hamas, following its violent takeover of Gaza.
"Hamas has shown no evidence that it accepts the international norm," Rice said in a July 19 interview with British Sky TV in Lisbon, Portugal. "And we're not talking about an American norm or a British norm; we're talking about an international norm that if there is going to be peace, they're going to have to renounce violence ... you are going to have to honor the agreement on which that peace is going to be built, agreements that Palestinians agreed to more than a decade ago."
At the same time, Rice stressed that the United States, along with other nations, would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza as well as the West Bank.
Renewed U.S. assistance includes $144 million in food aid for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as those living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The U.S. Agency for International Development is providing another $50 million for basic services, civil society and democracy, and private sector development. (See related article.)
Rice also hailed the appointment of the former British Prime Minister as the Quartet's new representative. "I see Tony Blair as someone who is going to bring enormous energy and focus to one of the most important problems of our time, which is helping the Palestinians to build a state, helping them to build the institutions of a state," she said in a Lisbon interview with Portuguese SIC TV.
In a statement following its Lisbon meeting on July 19, the Quartet issued a statement reaffirming its commitment to a two-state solution and endorsed President Bush's call for an international Middle East peace conference this fall. (See related article.)
The Quartet also expressed its support for the newly formed Palestinian government of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad and welcomed the resumption of bilateral talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas, which included discussion about the transfer of tax and customs revenues and the decision to release prisoners. On July 20, Israel released more than 250 Palestinians near Ramallah, on the West Bank, according to news reports.
In her NPR interview before departing for Lisbon, Secretary Rice stressed that the Bush administration has been heavily engaged in the search for a durable Middle East peace since 2001, including the President Bush's repeated call for an independent Palestinian state and support for Israel's disengagement from Gaza.
Rice pointed out that nations around the world, as well as majority of Arabs, are supporting Abbas as the elected representative of the Palestinian people. "Yes, Hamas was elected," she said in the NPR interview, "but they have not acted responsibly .... They have refused to renounce violence. It's very hard to imagine a partner for peace that refuses to renounce violence and refuses to recognize the right of the other partner to even exist."
Texts and transcripts related to Secretary Rice's trip to Lisbon and the Quartet meeting can be found on the State Department Web site:
Secretary Rice's Interview with National Public Radio, July 18
Press Availability with Quartet Representatives, July 19
Briefing En Route to Lisbon, July 19
Interview With Nuno Rogeiro of SIC TV, July 19
Interview With Colin Brazier of Sky TV, July 19
Remarks With Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado After Their Meeting, July 19
Quartet Statement Following July 19 Meeting, July 20
For more information on U.S. policy, see The Middle East: A Vision for the Future.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
By Howard Cincotta
USINFO Special Correspondent