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Rice Decries Violence Between Rival Palestinian Security Forces

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Thursday warned that the creation of rival Palestinian security forces is creating a dangerous situation. She spoke after talks with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal that covered Middle East issues and the diplomatic confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program.

The talks here were the second round of the U.S.-Saudi strategic dialogue established last year, and they came amid increasing tensions between rival Palestinian security forces that erupted in violence late Thursday in Gaza.

U.S. officials have watched with concern as Hamas, which now runs the Palestinian government, has created its own militia to rival existing security forces dominated by the mainstream Fatah movement.

In a joint press appearance with the Saudi Foreign Minister, Rice said all security elements should be under the control of moderate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who she said enjoys the confidence of the Palestinian people. "All Palestinian parties ought to respect the need of the Palestinian people to have a secure environment and not to have a situation in which there is violence in the streets. Now this goes back a ways, and the Palestinian president has talked about the need for there to be one-authority, and one-gun," she said.

Rice said she could not think of any stable democratic environment in which there were multiple security forces vying for control.

The Saudi Foreign Minister was critical in an interview with American reporters Wednesday of U.S.-led efforts to isolate the Hamas-led Palestinian government unless it recognized Israel's right to exist and renounced violence.

Prince Saud said a policy of inclusion and dialogue would yield a change in the Hamas position toward Israel, but that isolation would backfire.

He did not repeat those remarks in the public session with Secretary Rice. But he did make clear he backed diplomatic efforts to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, saying his government has long supported a nuclear-free greater Middle East region:

"Definitely the spread of atomic weapons, or the threat of spread of atomic weapons in the region is a threat to the countries of the region. And therefore we hope that all the countries of the region would ascribe to the policy of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League of having a Middle East, including the Gulf, free of atomic weapons," he said.

For her part, Rice said the United States is committed to a diplomatic outcome in the nuclear standoff with Iran, though she brushed aside a suggestion from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger that the Bush administration should engage directly with Tehran on the issue.

An official here confirmed that the United States has agreed, in connection with the visit by Prince Saud, to release 16 Saudis held at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The Saudis, among hundreds of terrorist suspects picked up by U.S. forces after the invasion of Afghanistan, will be sent home for possible trial and further incarceration.

The U.S. official said Saudi officials promised that those released would not be allowed to return to terrorist activity, and would be treated humanely.