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Rice's Travel to Middle East Meets Rebuffs
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded on Thursday her four-day visit to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates. It was thought to be an important trip. However, the top US diplomat's efforts to ask Arab leaders to press for recognition of Israel by the Palestinian military group Hamas, to constrain Iran's ambition of nuclear desire, and to speed up political reform have hardly made any headway.

Isolation impossible

Of the four Arab countries Rice visited, Egypt and Saudi Arabiaare, in term of political influence in the region, the most important ones. As part of preparation for the Middle East journey, US President George W. Bush and his top aide Rice have been stressing that Hamas, which won the Jan. 25 elections, can not be partner of peace and will get no aid from the United States unless the military group recognizes Israel's right to exist and abandon its armed struggle to destroy the Jewish state.

Washington's threat to cut financial aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government was echoed by its European allies. But Rice's latest visit to the Middle East has demonstrated that American push to isolate Hamas is confronting unanimous objection from US allies in the Middle East.

Reading major US newspapers this week, people may have found many stories with glaring titles like "Rice, on tour, finds Egypt unreceptive to Hamas aid cutoff", "Egypt rejects appeal by Rice" and "Saudi Arabia will keep up aid flow to Palestinians".

Commenting Egypt's stand on Hamas, the Washington Post said "Egypt does not provide much aid to the Palestinians but has broad influence in the Arab world on Israel-Palestinian issues, so the rebuff could hamper Rice's efforts to build a united front against the rise of Hamas."

Referring to Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal's remarks - "We wish not to link the international aid to the Palestinian people to considerations other than their dire humanitarian needs,"- the Washington Post pointed out that "Saudi's statement put the kingdom at odds with the US push to isolate the Palestinians, except for the provision of humanitarian aid."

It was reported that Saudi Arabia currently provides about US$15 million in monthly aid through the Arab League for the Palestinian Authority budget.

It was observed that while she was trying hard to persuade Arab allies to cut aid to the Hamas-led government, Rice was unavoidably involving in contradictions of the Bush administration's Middle East policy.

"On trips to the region in the past year, she repeatedly pushed Arab governments to step up monetary support for the Palestinians while arguing that they must open up their political systems.

"This week, in her first trip since Hamas's unexpected victory Jan. 25, she has urged caution in supporting a Palestinian legislature that came to power in a democratic election," the Washington Post said.

Complete nuclear free

In addition to curb Hamas, Rice also tried in her journey to seek support from Arab countries to take stand against Iran over its nuclear program. However, judging from her talks with leaders of Arab countries, people will find that the Bush administration's call for settlement of Iran's nuclear issue is quite different from what Arab countries advocate.

Although Rice has time and again accused Iran of developing secretly nuclear weapons, the Arab countries she visited always turned a deaf ear to her platitude. "There is no proof yet that they (Iranians) are producing atomic weapons. They deny this. They have denied it many times to us," Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters after talks with Rice in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Political analysts here believe that the great difference over Iran's nuclear issue lies in Washington's prolonged practice of double standards over the nuclear issue, namely while the United States is sparing no effort to curb Iran's nuclear development, It closes its eyes to the fact that Israel has made nuclear weapons.

Egyptian president's spokesman Soleiman Awad said on Wednesday the discussion about Iran's nuclear issue can never steer clear of the realization of nuclear free in the whole region of the Middle East, let alone Israel's nuclear issue. The Egyptian statement might be the voice of the aspiration of the Middle East countries over the settlement of nuclear issues in the region.

(Xinhua News Agency February 25, 2006)

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