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Condoleezza: 'Important Start' for Middle East Peace

Tuesday, 03 June 2003 12:00 AM

In an interview with CNN, Rice said the end of the war in Iraq and the appointment of Mahmoud Abbas as the first Palestinian prime minister and his commitment to fighting terror and creating democratic, accountable institutions in the Palestinian Authority are cause for optimism.

Bush met with with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan's King Abdullah, Saudi Crown Prince Abdallah bin Abdulaziz, Bahrain's King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice said Israel is contributing to the peace effort by beginning to open closures and to expand the mobility of the Palestinians, increasing revenue transfers to the Palestinian Authority, and releasing some important political prisoners.

Rice said although difficult times lie ahead, Bush "will not back away" from his determination to press for peace.

Rice said the Arab nations will have to be as committed to peace as the Israelis, the Palestinians and the rest of the international community in order to achieve the goal. Rice said that when a Palestinian leadership committed to fighting terrorism emerged, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has said he would be willing to make "the difficult choices" for peace.

Following is some of the transcript of Rice's interview with CNN:

Q: The President addressed some of the skepticism the Arab leaders had about whether he was willing to pressure Israel by saying quite bluntly in his opening statement this morning: Israel must deal with the settlements, Israel must create a Palestine that is working and workable, a contiguous area of land.

We are told that Prime Minister Sharon at the three-way meeting is prepared to publicly commit to dismantling some of the illegal settlements. How many and how fast?

DR. RICE: Well, I think we'll wait until tomorrow, when we meet tomorrow to see what statements come from the leaders. But what the President was here to do today and what he will do tomorrow is to call upon all of the leaders to do what they can do to improve the prospects for peace.

Sometimes there's a tendency in the Middle East to look over your shoulder and say, well, what is he doing to help with peace? The President has a different approach. He's asking everyone to take on their individual responsibilities, each party, to advance the process of peace. He did that today with the Arab leaders, he'll do that tomorrow with Prime Minister Abbas and Prime Minister Sharon. I think we're making very good progress.

Q: There's also been skepticism that the President would stay engaged on a personal level. We got a picture today of him driving a golf cart, driving the leaders to their statements. Is that a metaphor? Is there any doubt, or can you erase the lingering doubt, perhaps, among some that this President when there's a bump in the road will say, whoa, and back away?

DR. RICE: Well, this President will not back away. This is a President who's known for his determination, who's known for keeping his word -- when he says that he's going to do something, he does it and he does it with great determination.

Now, I don't want to say that driving a cart was a metaphor. (Laughter.) All I know is that we looked up and he was driving the cart. But he had wonderful, personal interaction with these leaders today. They had an hour-and-a-half meeting with only interpreters in the room. They then broke for a very brief period of time to take the family picture, if you will, and then returned to lunch with just one note-taker there. So they've had a lot of interaction.

And this is on top of the fact that the President has built these relationships over time. He's had President Mubarak to Washington, the Crown Prince to Crawford. He's had King Abdullah to Washington several times. So these are relationships -- and also King Hamid, of Bahrain -- so these are relationships that have been building. But today, to meet together, with Prime Minister Abbas, was a new step forward in the relationship. And it's important because the Arab nations are going to have to be as committed to this process as the Israelis, the Palestinians and the rest of the international community.

Q: We're at time, we need to stop there. Thank you very much.

DR. RICE: Thank you very much.

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