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Rice Announces Travel to Middle East


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaves for the Middle East Sunday as part of Washington's diplomatic efforts to resolve fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Scott Stearns reports, Secretary Rice meets with senior Saudi diplomats before her trip.

Secretary Rice says the Bush administration understands the urgency of ending the violence, but believes an immediate ceasefire without political conditions makes no sense.

"We do seek an end to the current violence, and we seek it urgently," said Ms. Rice. "More than that, we also seek to address the root causes of that violence, so that a real and endurable peace can be established. A ceasefire would be a false promise, if it simply returns us to the status quo, allowing terrorists to launch attacks at the time and terms of their choosing, and to threaten innocent people, Arab and Israeli, through the region."

A cease-fire like that, she says, would guarantee future violence. So Rice says her goal now is to be more effective and more ambitious by working to create conditions for stability and lasting peace.

She will pursue those goals during this trip in talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas before traveling to Rome for a meeting with officials from a group formed to back Lebanon's democratically-elected government.

That group includes the United States, France, Britain, Lebanon, the European Union, Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Italy, the United Nations and the World Bank.

Before she leaves, Rice will join President Bush at the White House Sunday for talks with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and the head of Saudi Arabia's national security council, Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino says it is a chance to meet with a key ally, as part of the president's broader diplomatic outreach.

President Bush has continued to reject calls for a ceasefire that leaves Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, where they could still strike at Israel. He also wants Syria and Iran to stop backing Hezbollah.

Secretary Rice says Syria's neighbors have made clear that Damascus is outside the mainstream of Arab thought about extremism.

"The Syrians have to make a choice," she added. "Do they really wish to be associated with the circumstances that help extremism to grow in the region? Or are they going to be a part of what is clearly a consensus of the major Arab states in the region that extremism is one of the problems here?"

Rice says she is beginning to see the outlines of a political framework that she says might create the conditions for a ceasefire, but there are no quick fixes. She fully expects the diplomatic work on this trip to be difficult.

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