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Rice Meets Arab Ministers in Advance of Riyadh Summit


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met foreign ministers of four moderate Arab states in the Egyptian city of Aswan Saturday in advance of the Arab League summit next week in Riyadh. U.S. officials would like to see the Arab states renew their 2002 peace overture to Israel. VOA's David Gollust reports from Aswan.

Senior officials in the Rice party say they do not want to appear to be trying to tell the Arab League what to do.

But they are making clear they would like to see that organization reaffirm the 2002 peace initiative, and preferably supplement it with some sort of new political overture to Israel.

In the peace plan, initiated by Saudi Arabia, the Arab League member countries offered Israel normal relations, if it returned to 1967 borders and reached a two stage settlement with the Palestinian including the return of refugees.

But the 2002 initiative was overshadowed by the violence of the second Palestinian Intifada and later by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In a talk with reporters, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch said Secretary Rice told her foreign minister colleagues from Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that U.S. efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process would be enhanced, if there was a parallel Arab-Israeli negotiating track. "The Secretary emphasized in the gathering with the foreign ministers the importance of Arab-Israeli reconciliation as an element in broadening peace, but also in helping to establish a track between the Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

A senior U.S. official who spoke to reporters said Rice was not preaching to her Arab colleagues about what needs to be done, but said none-the-less the United States views some sort of outreach to Israel by the Arab League to be of critical importance.

Rice also met with security and intelligence chiefs from the four countries of the so-called Quartet of moderate Arab states. The official said that conversation focused on, among other things, ways to curb arms smuggling to Hamas and other radical factions in the Palestinian areas, and to assure that aid flowing to those areas does not end up in the hands of extremists.

The senior official said the Arab Quartet members believe the Bush administration has struck the right balance on the new Palestinian unity government by continuing to back an international aid ban against it, but agreeing to continue contacts with non-Hamas members of the cabinet.

Rice continues her Middle East mission, her third thus far this year, with a meeting here Sunday morning with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

She then flies on to Israel where she will meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem after talks in the West Bank city of Ramallah with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas.

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