Egypt's foreign minister says solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would go a long way to bringing peace to the Middle East and diminishing the allure of extremist groups. Speaking to an audience in Washington Wednesday, Ahmed Aboul Gheit also expressed concern about the effect of the war in Iraq on the rest of the region. From Washington, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Aboul Gheit says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is responsible for at least half of the troubles in the Middle East, and he believes a resolution could be a turning point for the region.

The United States has been working hard to bring the two sides together, and later this month Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is headed to Jerusalem. She will meet with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership in an effort to restart political dialogue between the two sides. Aboul Gheit says he believes Secretary Rice is committed to peacemaking, but cautioned that the conflict cannot be fixed in just one visit.

"The whole thing will not be accomplished in one meeting," said Ahmed Aboul Gheit. "You have to expect an American effort that is sustained, that is determined, that knows that there will be obstacles, that is patient, that has vision [and] understanding."

Aboul Gheit told an audience at Washington's Brookings Institution that the two sides were on the verge of a resolution once before, in December 2000, and he believes they can go all the way now.

"Fifty one percent of that clash and that tension can be just dissipated if we would settle down the Palestinian issue and it can be done," he said.

The other big regional crisis is Iraq. The Egyptian foreign minister says his government predicted disaster there long ago and warned its ally Washington about it.

"I view a very difficult, difficult situation," said Egypt's foreign minister. "A situation, that we in Egypt read accurately much, much well in advance. We knew what was to happen and what was to come."

He says the situation in Iraq is so dangerous because it is not just limited to that country and threatens the stability of the entire region. Aboul Gheit says Egypt supports President Bush's current troop surge in Baghdad if it will lead to the dismantling of Shiite militias and if it opens up a political process that will lead to the greater participation of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority.

The Egyptian official stressed that the United States cannot leave Iraq without restoring its stability and protecting its unity, saying those two elements are necessary to preventing the spread of further conflict in the Middle East.