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Rice Prepares for Africa, Middle East Trip Next Week


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Senegal, Sudan, Israel and the Palestinian territories next week, as she continues a heavy schedule of foreign travel. A key element of the mission will be to try to assure a peaceful Israeli disengagement from Gaza.

Ms. Rice, who completed a mission to Asia earlier this week, will be traveling again next Tuesday as she begins a trip spanning six days to Africa and the Middle East.

On her first mission to sub-Saharan Africa since taking office, Ms. Rice will attend a U.S.-African trade forum in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, and visit Sudan, including a stop in the troubled western Darfur region.

Returning to the Middle East for the second time in as many months, Ms. Rice will meet top Israeli and Palestinian leaders on preparations for Israel's planned withdrawal in August from Gaza and four remote settlements in the West Bank.

The region has seen an upsurge of violence in recent days, including a lethal suicide bombing in the Israeli town of Netanya and retaliatory helicopter attacks by Israel against Palestinian radicals in Gaza and the West Bank.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Ms. Rice will continue an already intensive U.S. diplomatic effort to spur the parties to cooperate to assure that the Israeli disengagement goes ahead as planned and peacefully.

"All the parties need to make the maximum effort to see that this disengagement process is a success. It's a potentially historic moment and the parties should seize the opportunity to realize all the potential from this disengagement," said Mr. McCormack.

Secretary Rice spoke by telephone with Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas Wednesday to urge action to curb Palestinian extremists following the Netanya bombing, the first of its kind in five months.

Spokesman McCormack said the Secretary of State called Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz Friday to encourage what he termed appropriate steps to restore order and calm, after the spike in violence of recent days.

A senior State Department official who spoke to reporters later said Ms. Rice acknowledged Israel's right to defend itself, but also urged the Israeli leadership to keep the goal of a successful and peaceful Gaza withdrawal in mind.

Secretary Rice's first stop in Africa, Dakar, will include a 30-nation U.S.-African trade and economic cooperation forum under AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act, approved by the U.S. Congress in 2000.

AGOA provides incentives for African countries to build free markets and open economies, and it has been a priority for the Bush administration, which says that expanded trade can do more than traditional aid programs to alleviate poverty in Africa.

In Sudan, Ms. Rice will urge leaders of the newly inaugurated national unity government in Khartoum to implement terms of their comprehensive peace accord ending the country's two-decade north-south civil war.

U.S. officials have cited the power-sharing arrangements in the north-south accord as a model for resolving the Darfur conflict.

In Darfur, Ms. Rice is expected to meet senior officials of the African Union monitoring force, international aid workers, and displaced persons.

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