US takes firmer stance on Middle East peace

United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday promised active US involvement in Middle East peacemaking, saying Washington will dispatch a high-level “security coordinator” to the region and send more than $40-million in immediate aid to the Palestinians.

Rice praised Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, saying he is following through on his mandate to restore calm in the Palestinian areas and that he has helped jump-start peace efforts with Israel.

“We will be very active,” Rice said at a joint news conference with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, capping a two-day visit to Israel and the West Bank. She urged Israelis and Palestinians to make the most of the current chance for peace.

Her meeting with Abbas ended years of strained relations between the US and the Palestinians under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, shunned by Washington as a leader tainted by terrorism.

The Palestinians, in turn, had complained that US President George Bush, at least in his first term, favoured Israel and was not active enough in trying to resolve the Middle East conflict.

At the start of her visit, Rice met with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Rice said she told the Israelis that they must refrain from taking unilateral actions that would prejudge the outcome of future peace negotiations. She singled out Jerusalem, claimed by both sides as a capital, and specifically referred to recent Israeli efforts to seize Jerusalem land owned by West Bank Palestinians.

Israel’s attorney has since ordered the policy stopped, and Rice said on Monday she is pleased.

She said she told Israel it must live up to its obligations under the US-backed “road map” peace plan.
Under the road map, Israel was to have dismantled dozens of unauthorised West Bank settlement outposts and frozen settlement expansion, but has not done so.

“We did talk about the need to make sure that both obligations are carried out concerning settlements and outposts,” she said of her talks with Israeli leaders.

Rice said she will appoint a “security coordinator” for the region—the strongest signal yet that Washington plans to become more involved.

“It really is to provide a focal point for training, equipping, helping Palestinians build their forces, and also for monitoring, and if necessary to help the parties on security matters,” Rice said. “But .. we believe the best security cooperation is between the parties themselves.”

Abbas indicated that he was told by Rice there will be an entire team of monitors.

“Indeed, the US promised us that there will be monitors to help prevent any friction and tension,” he said.

Rice said in the next three months, the Palestinian Authority will receive more than $40-million in US aid to help create jobs and rebuild the Palestinian infrastructure. The money is part of about $350-million in additional aid to the Palestinians, promised by Bush last week.—Sapa-AP

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