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Rice Heads to Europe and Middle East on First Trip as Secretary of State

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's predecessor Colin Powell traveled less than most recent Secretaries of State, preferring telephone diplomacy.

But aides to the new secretary have told reporters to expect more frequent travel, and her eight-day trip will be the first installment on a promise that either Ms. Rice or her designated deputy Robert Zoellick will visit all U.S. European allies in the early weeks of the second Bush administration.

The secretary will visit London, Berlin, Warsaw and Ankara before flying to the Middle East Sunday for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

She is then due to return to Europe to complete the trip next week with stops in Rome, Paris, Belgium and Luxembourg. In Paris, she is to deliver the major policy speech of the trip, expected to be an appeal for the healing of the trans-Atlantic rift spawned by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

In a wire service interview late Tuesday, Ms. Rice previewed her talks with U.S. NATO allies, which will lay groundwork for President Bush's trip to Europe later this month.

She called it a time of opportunity for the United States and its European partners to unite around a common agenda for the next several years - to deal with the challenges of weapons proliferation and terrorism, and take advantage of what she termed historic opportunities to build a different kind of Middle East.

She said last Sunday's Iraqi election has changed the context in the region and provided a new opportunity for the international community to rally around the people of Iraq.

She said the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian president and Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza, provide a greater opportunity for progress on the "road map" to peace, a point she also stressed in a open forum with State Department employees earlier this week.

"I think you are starting to see the parties make good fundamental choices," she said. "And as they make those good fundamental choices, it opens up the possibility of getting back on the road map toward a two-state solution. I don't think any of us doubt that without a Palestinian state that is viable, that can represent the aspirations of the Palestinian people, that there really isn't going to be a peace for either the Palestinian people or for the Israelis."

Ms. Rice is to have separate meetings with Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Monday, on the eve of their face-to-face meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh hosted by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and also involving Jordan's King Abdullah.

In the talk with wire-service reporters, Ms. Rice said her talks in Europe will also cover efforts by Britain, France and Germany to persuade Iran to end what U.S. officials say is a covert nuclear weapons program, and also an expected European Union move to lift a 15-year-old embargo on arms sales to China.

The secretary of state said the Bush administration has strategic military concerns about such action as well as concern that lifting the embargo - imposed after China's 1989 military crackdown on democracy protestors - might send the wrong signal about human rights.