An exercise in ambiguityPosted: 1:14 p.m. EDT 7/31/07 by Nancy Youssef
The annoucement at the end of the first stop of the Mideast tour started with such promise. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with her Egyptian counterpart in Sharm el Sheik as well as several Gulf allies to discuss all the contentious issues engulfing the region — Lebanon, the Israel-Palestian conflict, the war in Iraq and Iran 's growing influence.
They had a plan. Indeed, Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates just arrived in the region to meet the local governments, hash out these issues and rescue the region from unprecendented instability. After one such meeting — outside a resort hotel that was flying a Canadian flag for reasons no one can explain — Rice and the minister held a press conference. The Egyptian minister said the United States had spelled out its plans with clarity. Rice called it a "fruitful discussion."
They declared that there should be a contigious Palestinian state; the Arab world should embrace Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government; the Gulf states should work together to defend itself against a possible Iranian threat.
But how, the journalists began asking. "Specifically..." began one journalist. "What exactly" another Egyptian journalist said.
Rice and the minister answered with buzzwords all too familiar to the region. Rice referred to "the roadmap," an international plan that now appears to be moribund, past agreements, and future conferences. When that did not appease the journalists, the minister and secretary told us to refer to their joint statement, which would outline their vision.
Afterwards, I asked the press secretary where we could get the aforementioned statement. He shrugged his shoulders. Two hours later, they finally handed it out.
In several pages, the statement was no more specific. The Gulf states, Egypt, Jordan and the United States agreed these issues were important and that they were committed to them. But how? Perhaps we would find out on our next trip to Egypt.
In the meantime, off to the next stop.
Rice's time running shortPosted: 9:53 a.m. EDT 7/31/07 by Warren P. Strobel
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her top aides have been debating for weeks whether she should spend her last months in office on Middle East shuttle diplomacy.
Now the answer is clear: yes.
Rice, speaking to a mixed throng of Western and Arab journalists, promised she'd come back again — and again — to try to advance peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
"I expect to be frequently here," Rice said she told eight Arab foreign ministers gathered at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el Sheik.
It won't actually be shuttle diplomacy, strictly defined. Rice has no plans to stay in the region for weeks on end, as Henry Kissinger did in the 1970s, when the term was coined.
But she will be flying across the Atlantic and Europe a lot, in advance of a planned Middle East peace summit in the fall.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit said Arab countries want to help Rice achieve her Middle East goals in the next 17 months, "which is the life of the (Bush) administration."
It was a none-too-subtle reminder that Rice's time is running short.