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Rice in Europe, Seeking Support for a Democratic Iraq, Mideast Peace

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in London on the initial leg of her first overseas trip, an eight-day mission to Europe and the Middle East. She says he will try to rally European support for a democratic Iraq, and to add to new momentum toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Ms. Rice is visiting seven European capitals, along with Ankara and Israel and the West Bank, on a mission aimed in large part at repairing relations with U.S. allies strained by the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

In a talk with reporters en route to London, Ms. Rice said there has been a steady evolution in the European attitude after the initial strains, reflected in among other things training being provided for Iraqi security forces by NATO members, and international debt relief for Baghdad.

But she said last Sunday's elections, in which she said the Iraqi people expressed their desire for democracy in no uncertain terms, was a turning point and that it is time for Europe, as well as countries in the Middle East, to assess what more they can do to help the Iraqis:

"I think with that message, we and even those who disagree about what we did, when we did it, can find a common path in the future," she said. "Because I don't think that there's anyone in Europe or anyplace else that believes that the Iraqi people deserved Saddam Hussein. There are a lot of people that disagreed with the timing or didn't think it was time to hold him accountable, but we have a lot of basis on which to move forward."

Ms. Rice said another thrust of her mission will be to demonstrate unity of purpose with her counterparts in Britain, France and Germany, who have been trying to persuade Iran to fully disclose details of a nuclear program the United States maintains has a covert weapons component.

She said she would also raise U.S. objections to a pending decision by the European Union to lift a 15-year-old arms sales embargo against China.

She said the United States has concerns about the human rights message such action would send, given that the embargo was first imposed to protest China's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, and is also concerned about the implications for the military balance in the region.

Ms. Rice is due to hold separate talks on Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, on the eve of their first meeting at an Egyptian-sponsored summit in Sharm El-Sheikh.

Her proximity to the summit has promoted speculation she might attend. But in the airborne news conference, she said she had no plans to change her travel schedule and visit Egypt.

She said it is extremely important that the parties themselves are taking responsibility for advancing peace efforts and that, in her words: not every effort has to be an American effort.