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Rice to Discuss Gaza, Lebanon, Sudan in Paris


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flies to Paris early next week for meetings with top French officials and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora. Middle East issues and Sudan will be on the agenda for the three-day Rice visit to the French capital, beginning Sunday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Paris was to have been only the first stage of a more extensive trip by the secretary involving stops in the Middle East.

Her schedule was pared back after last week's takeover of Gaza by the militant Palestinian Hamas movement. But the Middle East will be a prime topic in Paris meetings with the new French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Lebanese Prime Minister Siniora, and others.

Rice has conferred by telephone on the Gaza events with her counterparts from the international Middle East Quartet, which also includes Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Officials here say an effort was made to convene a ministerial-level meeting of the Quartet during Rice's Paris visit but that scheduling problems will prevent it.

They say Quartet emissaries plan to meet in the Middle East in the coming week or two as a prelude to a ministerial meeting sometime in July.

In a telephone conference call late last week, the Quartet ministers expressed support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to dissolve his mainstream Fatah movement's unity cabinet with Hamas, and also ended a 15-month embargo on direct aid to the Palestinian government.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack announced Rice's travel plans at a news briefing in which he also welcomed, as very positive, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's invitation to Mr. Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Jordan's King Abdullah for a meeting Monday in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh.

McCormack said Rice has no plans to join that meeting and that the Bush administration encourages peace efforts initiated by the Middle East parties themselves.

"We don't have to participate in every meeting," McCormack said. "Just as Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas get together, we encourage that sort of dynamic, encourage that dialogue. It's important. Just because we aren't at every meeting doesn't mean we aren't intimately involved with the effort to try to bring about a more peaceful Middle East."

McCormack said Rice will discuss developments in Lebanon with Prime Minister Siniora, who will be in Paris on a previously-scheduled visit.

On Monday the secretary will join foreign ministers from China and several European and African countries in a French-initiated meeting of an expanded international contact group on the situation in Sudan's western Darfur region.

McCormack said the priority on Darfur is moving an expanded African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force into the region as quickly as possible, now that the Sudanese government has given its assent to the deployment.

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