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Rice Announces US Security Coordinator for Middle East, Aid for Palestinians

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in Rome for talks with Italian and Vatican officials, after her first visit to the Middle East in her new post. Capping talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, she announced the appointment Monday of a U.S. "security coordinator" for the Middle East, along with a quick infusion of U.S. aid to Palestinians.

Ms. Rice made her brief Mideast visit on the eve of the first Israeli-Palestinian summit in more than four years. But she will not attend the Egyptian-brokered meeting in the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh or send a high-ranking U.S. delegate.

At a news conference Monday after talks in Ramallah with new Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ms. Rice welcomed the summit initiative by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and pledged the Bush administration will be ready to help the parties when needed.

However, she said not everything that happens in the area has to involve the United States.

"There should be no doubt about the commitment of the United States," Ms. Rice says. "But it's a very good thing when the parties can do as much on their own as the Israelis and Palestinians have done in recent weeks. It's a good thing when the regional actors are able to call a summit and bring the parties together, so that they can continue to make progress and momentum."

Ms. Rice said the change in Palestinian leadership capped by the election of the reform-minded Mr. Abbas last month has created a "promising moment" for the Palestinian people.

With the new president at her side, she announced that the United States will be spending more than $40 million in what she termed "quick action" financial aid to the Palestinian Authority in the next 90 days.

Ms. Rice said the money, already approved by Congress, will go for job-creating programs and infrastructure projects in the West Bank and Gaza, and is intended to make an immediate impact on the lives of Palestinians.

U.S. officials say the money would be in addition to 350-million-dollars in new aid to the Palestinians, promised by President Bush in his State-of-the-Union address.

They have made no secret of hopes of bolstering moderate leaders, like Mr. Abbas, in the face of political inroads by radical factions, such as Hamas, which resoundingly won municipal elections in Gaza late last month.

Secretary Rice has said she has no plans for the early appointment of a U.S. special envoy to try to advance peace efforts.

But in Ramallah, she announced that the United States will send a "security coordinator" to help the Palestinians train and equip new consolidated police forces, and, if necessary, referee disputes between the two sides over compliance with security accords:

"The idea is to have someone who is responsible for helping the Palestinians in reform of their security forces, for helping in monitoring, but not to supplant the activities and the efforts of the parties," Ms. Rice says. "I do believe that it's most important that the Israelis and the Palestinians have security cooperation that is bilateral, that is strong, that is robust, that is dealing with most of the problems."

At a departure news conference in Tel Aviv, Ms. Rice identified the security coordinator as Lieutenant General William Ward, deputy commander of U.S. Army forces in Europe.

She said Gen. Ward will go to the region on an initial assessment within a few weeks. Officials say the Ward mission will not involve the deployment of any U.S. military forces.

Ms. Rice's visit to Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah, the Mukat'a, was the first of its kind since Secretary of State Colin Powell met the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat there in 2002, before the United States severed contacts with him.

Unlike other foreign officials who have met with Mr. Abbas in recent weeks, Ms. Rice did not pay a visit to Mr. Arafat's grave, which is on the partially-destroyed compound only tens of meters from where the talks were held.