US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's whirlwind tour of Ramallah and Jerusalem was seen as a stepped-up effort by the Bush administration to reinvigorate the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and build up a moderate coalition in the Middle East.
Bolstering Abbas against Hamas
Rice intended to support Palestinian National Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and, consequently, solidify a moderate alliance in the region as a counterbalance to deal with Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.
Rice's tour came at a time when Abbas' Fatah movement has engaged in a bloody conflict with the ruling Hamas movement. The Fatah-Hamas street conflict spilled over the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and claimed at least 12 lives and injured over 100. The clash slip into the verge of a civil war.
Rice called for strengthening security forces loyal to Abbas. Official sources revealed on Thursday that the United States has allocated US$20 million for improving security around Abbas. The plan was initiated by the US security coordinator, General Keith Dayton, and presented during a meeting between Rice and Abbas.
While in a meeting with Rice in Jerusalem on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Israel was interested in helping Abbas, and Israel would soon open the Karni commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip as well as the Rafah crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
According to Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who met Rice Thursday morning, Israel would ease humanitarian conditions in the territories so long as it does not harm its security interests.
Building up moderate coalition
In an effort to rally moderate forces in the Middle East, Rice also visited Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iraq.
"When Lebanon (conflict) happened, I think (we) got in very stark relief a clear indication that there are extremist forces and moderate forces," she told reporters as she was en route to Saudi Arabia.
She said that "the countries that we are meeting ... is a group that you would expect to support the emerging moderate forces in Lebanon, in Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories. And so I look forward to consulting with them on how we strengthen these forces and what needs to be done."
On Tuesday, Rice met in Cairo with foreign ministers of six Gulf Arab states, Egypt and Jordan in a mini-summit to coalesce moderate Arab states in the region.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit said that no differences of opinion emerged during the meeting, since all the participants are friendly states. "Our purpose is peace, stability and development in the region. The aim is the establishment of a Palestinian state," he added.
Pursuing tough stance against Iran
The United States claims that extremism in the Middle East poses as much threat to itself as to moderate Arab regimes.
Shortly after landing in Saudi Arabia Tuesday morning to kick off her Mideast tour, Rice told reporters, "The international community will have no option but to force sanctions on Iran if it does not suspend its uranium enrichment program."
"I hope that there is still room to resolve this," she said at a joint news conference with Egypt's Ahmed Abul Gheit. "But the international community is running out of time because soon its own credibility will be a matter of question."
Rice said if Iran fails to comply with international demands, " then the only choice for the international community is to live up to the terms of resolution 1696 ... and that means to bring sanctions."
(Xinhua News Agency October 5, 2006)