US, Israel see eye-to-eye on Palestinians, Iran

WASHINGTON — If there ever was a question that the Bush administration and the Israeli government are of one mind on Mideast peacemaking and Iran’s nuclear programmes it is fading during talks Israel’s foreign minister is holding here.

Both the ministers, Tzipi Livni and the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, have issued identical demands that any Palestinian unity government renounce violence against Israel and accept its right to exist.

And Livni and Rice are on the same page in their distrust of Iran’s intentions. “The world cannot afford a nuclear Iran,” Livni said Wednesday after meeting with Rice at the State Department.

While Rice did not repeat the long-held belief within the administration that Iran is on a fast track to building nuclear weapons, Rice said Iran’s cancellation of talks this week with the Europeans is further reason for the United Nations to consider applying sanctions on Tehran.

That is topic A on Rice’s agenda for her meetings at the UN beginning next week. “It is a natural time to see where we are,” Rice said as American diplomats try to pull the Europeans, Russia and China together to punish Iran with a series of increasingly harsher economic and political sanctions.

The end of the conflict between Israel and Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon, meanwhile, has renewed interest in prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is trying to work out a unity government that would include Hamas and possibly other groups in a power-sharing arrangement.

“Stagnation is not the Israeli government policy,” Livni said, in registering Israel’s intention to move ahead towards an accord with the Palestinians that would ensure them a state.

“We will take all of the efforts,” she said, while also reaffirming Israel is interested in dealing with Abbas, who is considered a moderate.

But, she said, any Palestinian government must fully and completely meet international demands that it recognise the existence of Israel.

“These requirements are not negotiable,” Livni said.

Rice, while cautious about how the unity negotiations might turn out, was emphatic that a new Palestinian government must meet those requirements.

“They embody the very essential elements of how we would get eventually to a two-state solution,” she said.

“It is hard to have a partner for peace if you don’t accept the right of the other partner to exist,” Rice said, referring to Hamas’ hard-line stance against Israel.

Like Livni, Rice spoke positively of Abbas. He has accepted those important principles, Rice said, and “is someone with whom we can work and with whom we are working.” Before meeting with Rice, Livni called on Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, at the White House.

President George W. Bush dropped in unexpectedly. According to Hadley’s spokesman, Frederick Jones, the president assured Livni of his strong support for Israel’s security and discussed with her “the threat posed by the Iranian and Syrian regimes.” Thursday was Livni’s day to spend on Capitol Hill, meeting with Democratic and Republican members of Congress and later with Vice President Dick Cheney.

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