US committed to ‘contiguous’ Palestinian state — Rice

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday praised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ performance in office so far and reaffirmed the US commitment to creating a “contiguous” Palestinian state.
In an interview with AFP as Abbas started a round of talks in Washington, Rice played down reported Israeli complaints that the Palestinian was not doing enough to rein in Islamic groups.

“He has done some very good things,” Rice said. “I think there is no doubt that this is a different Palestinian leadership than we’ve had in the past. He is a committed person.”

She said the Palestinian security forces needed further reform although Abbas has “made a lot of good structural changes” since taking over for the late Yasser Arafat in January. “More can always be done and I do think that we will want to talk about what more can be done,” Rice said.

“But let’s not underestimate the fact that he’s done a great deal.”

Asked whether she was disappointed that Abbas seemed to be trying to work with groups such as Hamas, rather than dismantle them, Rice avoided any harsh criticism.

“I think he (Abbas) understands that the Palestinians have a roadmap obligation to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and the terrorist organisations,” she said.

“The Palestinians are going to be able to count on the fact that there’s one government and one authority and, as he often says, one gun, not multiple organisations that are armed.”

Rice said the peace “roadmap” drafted by the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia was a process that we’re involved in and not everything can happen overnight.

“But the commitment of this (Palestinian) leadership to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a very good start.”

Abbas, who was to meet with President George W. Bush at the White House on Thursday, has said he was hoping his first official visit since his election would produce a “clear” US commitment to a Palestinian state.

But Rice said Bush was already committed to a Palestinian state “that would have contiguous territory. He’s said that this can’t be a state of scattered territories, that would not be viable.”

“He (Bush) has said that Israel needs to end its settlement expansion because that is not in accordance with Israel’s obligations,” Rice said.

“And he’s said that Israel must do nothing that prejudges a final status agreement because these territorial issues have to be mutually agreed by the parties at time of final status.”

Some reports have suggested that Abbas was seeking a letter outlining the US commitments similar to one that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon received from Bush in April of last year.

But Rice said, “there hasn’t been a discussion of a letter that I’m aware of. The words are there. He’s got the commitment.”

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