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Rice to New York for Gaza Diplomacy


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is joining U.N. Security Council and bilateral diplomacy on the Gaza crisis in New York. The United States is seeking a deal on Gaza that would end Hamas rocket fire into Israel, halt arms smuggling to the militant group, and reopen Gaza crossing points for aid and trade.

Rice is holding meetings in New York with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Arab and European foreign ministers in advance of a late-afternoon Security Council meeting on the Gaza crisis.

But State Department officials are cautioning against expectations of an early cease-fire resolution from the Security Council, and say Rice's principal focus is on the bilateral contacts, which will continue Wednesday.

The Bush administration has come under criticism for resisting Arab-backed calls in the Security Council for an immediate end to hostilities. U.S. officials say drafts submitted thus far have failed to address the Hamas rocket fire on Israel that provoked the crisis, and have not included terms that would assure that a truce would be durable.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States would like an immediate cease-fire provided it has a reasonable chance to succeed long-term.

"We would like an immediate cease-fire, absolutely," McCormack said. "Look, nobody wants to see violence. We would like to see the violence end today, but we also want to see it end in a way that is sustainable and durable, so that you do not have my successor up here three months, four months, six months from now talking about the same thing."

The State Department said Monday that Rice, who has been conducting telephone diplomacy on Gaza, is pursuing a three-pronged accord to end Hamas rocket fire, close the tunnels from Egypt through which the militant group has been receiving weapons, and reopen Gaza crossing points so that the economy of the coastal strip can return to normal.

Officials say such a crossings accord would be based on the movement and access deal Rice brokered between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2005, but was never fully implemented. That accord provided for a European Union monitoring presence at the crossings, which U.S. officials say could be augmented by personnel from other countries.

The deal Rice is seeking would not necessarily unfold under U.N. auspices. She is meeting in New York with, among others, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, whose government has offered to provide observers, and with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner.

McCormack said Rice spoke by telephone Monday with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. Egypt mediated the previous Gaza truce which Hamas refused to renew last month and would be a key to enforcement of any new effort to curb arms traffic to Hamas.

Rice also called President-elect Barack Obama on Monday to brief him on Gaza diplomacy.

A senior official who spoke to reporters said concerned parties, including Arab states are "starting to coalesce" around the three-part strategy Rice is pursuing, but in his words "are not there yet by any stretch" of the imagination.

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