U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the Bush administration will accelerate efforts for Palestinian statehood under the international Roadmap to peace with Israel. Mr. Abbas, who met with Rice Sunday in Ramallah, said he was not interested in temporary statehood within interim borders. VOA's David Gollust reports from Jerusalem.
The Bush administration has been pressed to get more involved in Middle East peace-making by, among others, members of the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton study group, who said such action could help pacify Iraq and blunt the regional influence of Iran.
But at a news conference capping a more than two-hour meeting with Mr. Abbas, Rice said Palestinian statehood should be pursued on its own merit and not because of Iran, Iraq or any other outside factor.
Rice has cast her current mission to the area as a listening tour and she assured Mr. Abbas the United States has heard his message about the need to improve the daily lives of Palestinians:
"I want to say to you Mr. President, as I will say to others, that I have heard loud and clear the call for deeper American engagement in these processes," Rice said. "The United States is absolutely committed to helping to find a solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live in security, in which they can live in peace and in which they can live in democracy."
Rice began her mission late Saturday with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in talks about how to strengthen Palestinian moderates by providing a so-called diplomatic horizon for the peace process. They also discussed the idea of interim statehood for the Palestinians, implicitly within the boundaries of Israel's controversial security barrier in the West Bank.
But in his press appearance with Rice, Mr. Abbas stressed his opposition to the idea. He was heard through an interpreter:
"We have also noted to Minister Rice our refusal to any temporary or transitional solutions, including a state with temporary borders because we do not believe it to be a realistic choice that can be built upon," Mr. Abbas said. "We have also emphasized the importance of active and continuous mobilization by the various regional and international parties to put and end to the conflict."
Mr. Abbas said he briefed Rice on his efforts to achieve a unity government deal with the militant Islamic Hamas movement that would end the international economic embargo against the Hamas-led government because of its refusal to recognize Israel.
Abbas said those ongoing discussions will either produce a happy end, or else he will seek early presidential and legislative elections that would end the political stalemate.
To bolster Mr. Abbas, the Bush administration is seeking $86 million from Congress to upgrade Palestinian security forces under his control. The move has drawn criticism that it might fuel the intra-Palestinian conflict, but Rice told reporters the program would be gradual and under tight controls, and part of an international effort to improve the professionalism of Palestinian forces:
"Let me be very clear," Rice said. "It is not as if tomorrow there will be a U.S. contribution should the Congress approve it. Rather this is a train and equip program that will unfold over a period of time. I am sure that President Abbas and his people will want to be attentive to the requirement of the plan, including attentive to concerns about human rights, which are there in all of our train and equip programs around the world."
Mr. Abbas said he needed the aid because the infrastructure of his security forces has been demolished by Israel. He promised there would be no misuse of outside assistance.