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Rice Optimistic About Peace Deal in Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini Tuesday in Rome. She expressed optimism about the prospects for peace in the Middle East and said both Italy and the United States agree this is time of opportunity.

Condoleezza Rice said there seems to be a new will in the Middle East to reach peace but she warned that there is still a long road ahead. She was speaking after a meeting with the Italian Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini.

Ms. Rice said she held extensive discussions on the prospects for peace in the Middle East with Mr. Fini but also talked about Iraq, Afghanistan and the Balkans.

The meeting came just hours before Israeli and Palestinian leaders were to meet in Sharm-el-Sheik for a new era of peace talks. Ms. Rice is on her way back from the region where she met both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Abu Mazen.

Ms. Rice said reaching peace in the region and the success of the new Israeli-Palestinian talks in Egypt also depended on other Middle Eastern countries. She used tough words against Syria saying it has been unhelpful in many ways, particularly in the way it supports terrorists.

"It is time for Syria to demonstrate that it does not want to be isolated, that it does not want to have a bad relationship with the United States," she said. "We've already used the Syrian accountability act to levy certain sanctions against Syria. I would hope that Syria could react in a more positive way so that we do not have to go further in that regard."

Ms. Rice added that you cannot, on one hand, say you want a process of peace and on the other hand support people who are determined to destroy it. She also said that the new Palestinian leadership must move with strength to control violence against Israel.

Turning to the difference that exist in Europe over the Iraq war, Ms. Rice stressed the importance of the Iraqi elections in the pursuit of democracy and freedom in Iraq.

She also defended America's standing to help the Iraqis obtain this and acknowledged that also in democracies things can go wrong, as in the case of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

"Being a democracy does not mean that bad things will not happen but being a democracy means that you will be transparent, and open and investigate and punish any such activities," she said.

Ms. Rice was also scheduled to meet Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi but that meeting had to be canceled as Mr. Berlusconi has the flu. After meeting with the foreign minister, Ms. Rice went to the Vatican for talks with Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the secretary of state. She was to have met the pope originally but he was taken to a hospital last Tuesday with breathing problems linked to the flu.