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2005-01-30óRice-Middle East

Harrison Weblog

2005 blog


Rice wants Palestinian Authority
to dismantle rival military groups

Secretary of State parries questions during TV interviews
about possibility of Israel attacking Iran's nuclear program
,  Jan. 30, 2005

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, discussing her planned Feb. 3-10  trip to Europe and the Middle East on "Fox News Sunday" with Chris Wallace, urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to begin dismantling rival military organizations within the Palestinian Authority.

"I do think that it is important that the Palestinians and the Israelis find a way to move forward in this period of calm," Rice told Wallace. "It is also important that we not lose sight of the fact that the roadmap requires the dismantling, ultimately, of terrorist organizations. It requires the unification of the Palestinian security forces, so as Prime Minister Abbas himself has said, there can be only one gun under the authority of the state. And whatever means they can use to advance those goals, I would hope they would use them."

Rice plans to leave on her first trip to Europe and the Middle East as Secretary of State almost immediately following President Bush's "State of the Union" message.

Asked by Wallace how directly involved she would become in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, she replied:

"Well, I'm going out to the region, and it's my intention -- the parties are doing, by the way, very well. And they, themselves, have set conditions, which make it possible for this to be a time of opportunity. The Gaza withdraw plan of the Israelis, the Palestinian elections after the death of Yasser Arafat -- and so I plan to go out to discuss with them, to look at what we can do. Of course, America has a very important role to play, and we will play it. The conditions are now emerging for a -- for movement back onto the roadmap, and for movement toward a two state solution. And I intend to do everything that I can to help push that process forward." 

Along the same vein, Rice told George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week" that when she is in the Middle East, "I will be asking what can America do to support what I think is now a very clear desire by the parties to move beyond the troubles of the last several years and to try to build a permanent peace based on a two-state solution."

Talking to Bob Schieffer on CBS' "Face the Nation," Rice amplified this way: "I'm going there to talk with them about what we can do. Obviously, the parties themselves are taking very important steps to create new conditions. You mentioned the Gaza withdrawal plan, the Palestinian elections and the Palestinian development of democratic institutions, Palestinians who will fight terror with unified security forces that are not part of the problem, but part of the solution. A lot of pieces are starting to come into place, and I intend to go there and work with the parties to see if we can bring them all together."

In response to a question about whether the United states was becoming more engaged in the Middle East process, Rice responded: "the President was willing to say some tough things; that the parties themselves had some fundamental choices to make before we could make very much progress and we've been very active in the region all along. But now, the parties are making some fundamental choices. Prime Minister Abbas and his statements about needing to end the armed Intifadah, actually deploying Palestinian security forces to deal with the terrorist threats against Israel, Israel recognizing that it has an obligation to withdraw from territory -- these are fundamental steps, and we are prepared to be with the parties as they move forward to what we think could be a very bright future."

The Secretary of State was more guarded in her response to questions about the possibility--raised by Vice President Dick Cheney--that Israel might bomb Iran's nuclear facilities if they are perceived as a threat to Israel's security.

The State Department provided the following transcripts of conversations with Schieffer and Stephanopoulos respectively on the CBS and ABC programs

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you briefly about Iran. The Vice President said today it was sort of at the top of the list of potential trouble spots. He said that the Israelis may take matters into their own hands unless it is resolved. Do you see it as the number one threat to this country now? 

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the Iranians are clearly a destabilizing presence in the Middle East. And they have been -- they have a doctrine that says that Israel should cease to exist. They support terrorist groups that are trying to undo the very fragile peace process that may be starting to move forward, and of course, they have been pursuing, we believe, nuclear weapons under cover of civilian nuclear power, which is a very grave -- 

MR. SCHIEFFER: And we think they're still doing that? 

SECRETARY RICE: Well, the -- we are working with others, the IAEA, and with the -- International Atomic Energy Agency -- and with the Europeans, as well as with states like the Russians. 

MR. SCHIEFFER: Is it conceivable we would invade Iran or attack it in some way? 

SECRETARY RICE: We really do believe, Bob, that this is something that can be dealt with diplomatically. What is needed is unity of purpose, unity of message to the Iranians that we will not allow them to skirt their international obligations and develop nuclear weapons under cover of civilian nuclear power. 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Vice President Cheney, of course, raised some eyebrows a couple weeks ago when he suggested that some were worried that Israel might take matters in its own hands and go and do a nuclear -- a military strike against the Iranian nuclear program without asking anyone. Are you worried about that? 

SECRETARY RICE: Well, an Iran that is nuclear-armed, of course, is going to be a force for instability in that region and all kinds of things are possible if Iran gets to a nuclear device that is usable. Thatís why we have focused so on the diplomacy, focused so on unifying the world around this theme, focused so on getting the Russians and others to recognize that even civilian nuclear engagement, civilian nuclear programs with the Iranians, have proliferation risks. 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But if Israel came to the United States -- and Dennis Ross has raised this possibility. If Prime Minister Sharon came to you, came to the President, and said, "I have to take action, would the United States try to dissuade him? 

SECRETARY RICE: George, you know Iím not going to speculate on such things. But the key is we have an obligation internationally to make sure that the Iranians live up to their international obligations because an Iran that pursues nuclear weapons, an Iran that gets a nuclear device, would be very dangerous to the region, would set up all kinds of forces of instability. There is no disagreement anywhere in the international community that that is the case. 

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But then you canít rule out military action. 

SECRETARY RICE: The President never takes any option off the table. But we believe, we believe fully, that this can be resolved by diplomatic means. All that we need is unity of purpose, unity of message to the Iranians, and the willingness to stay the course in terms of verification of anything that the Iranians are doing. And I think weíre getting that kind of unity of purpose. "

óDonald H. Harrison