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    Rice Meets Blair in London to Open First Overseas Mission as Secretary of State

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    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London Friday on the initial leg of her first foreign trip. She is urging countries in Europe and the Middle East to follow the U.S. lead in providing aid to boost Palestinian reforms.

    Ms. Rice held talks in London, and is to go on to Berlin later in the day, as she began a fast-paced week of travel in Europe and the Middle East aimed at part in mending rifts with some U.S. allies over Iraq.

    The secretary of state says that regardless of differences over the U.S. decision to go to war in Iraq two years ago, it is now time to rally around a democratic Iraq in the wake of last Sunday's elections.

    In a similar vein, she is calling on U.S. allies in Europe and the Middle East to join the United States in providing aid to the Palestinians, to support reform and new peace efforts with Israel.

    Ms. Rice goes to the Middle East for separate meetings Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

    Those talks will be on the eve of an Egyptian-organized first meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Sharm el-Sheikh. But Ms. Rice told reporters traveling with her to London late Thursday that she will not attend the summit, and that every Middle East peace milestone need not be American-sponsored:

    "We really want to be supportive of the parties and their efforts. Not every effort has to be an American effort," she said. "It is extremely important that the parties themselves are taking responsibility. It is extremely important that the regional actors are taking responsibility."

    Ms. Rice said all those interested in Middle East peace should recognize that Iran is one of the strongest supporters of Lebanon's Hezbollah movement and Palestinian "rejectionist" elements who are trying to sabotage Middle East settlement efforts.

    She also said the behavior of Iranian leaders on human rights and treatment of their own citizens is loathsome and that the country deserves better. But she stopped short of calling for the Islamic government's ouster.

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