Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Rice: Arabs should reach out to Israel

Rice: Arabs should reach out to Israel

By TERENCE HUNT and ANNE GEARAN, Associated Press Writers 10 minutes ago

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that Arab nations must do more to reach out to Israel, as a way to do their part to nudge a Mideast peace accord into being.

Rice spoke from Saudi Arabia, at the side of its foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, giving her words and the U.S. position more weight. President Bush, traveling through the Mideast for eight days in part to build support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, made the same request from Jerusalem earlier in his trip.

She stepped gingerly around the sensitive question of whether the outreach should include Arab countries establishing diplomatic relations with Israel, their historical enemy. The only Arab nations that now have relations with Israel are Jordan and Egypt.

"Diplomatic relations, of course, is another matter and undoubtedly down the road," Rice said. "We hope that as progress is made between Israelis and Palestinians that there will be more efforts, that there will be more opportunity for outreach. But this will move at different speeds for different countries, we understand that."

The president views the support of Arab neighbors as crucial to the ability of Palestinian leaders to strike and sustain a final peace deal with Israel, which Bush wants done by the end of the year. He also sees Arab acknowledgment of Israel's place in the region as vital to the process.

But the U.S. request seemed a tall order. At Rice's side, Saud said "I don't know what more outreach we can give the Israelis," he said, referring to an Arab peace plan and the sentiment in the region that Israel hasn't been meeting its obligations under an internationally sponsored roadmap, and that the U.S. is too lenient on that point.

Saud said that Israel's continued Jewish settlement activity in the Palestinian territories "cast doubt on the seriousness of the negotiations."

Another prime topic of conversation between Bush and regional leaders during his eight-day trip has been Iran.

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