- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 13, 2005

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gave her strongest rebuke yesterday to the renewed hard-line Islamic leadership of Iran, saying that “no civilized nation” can call for the annihilation of another.

Miss Rice was referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remark last month that Israel is a “disgraceful blot” that should be “wiped off the map.” Her remarks drew applause from politicians, diplomats and others at a U.S.-Israel symposium.

“No civilized nation should have a leader who wishes or hopes or desires or considers it a matter of policy to express that … another country should be pushed into the sea,” Miss Rice said, speaking slowly and sternly. “It is unacceptable in the international system.”

The secretary, whose promotion of political openness in the Middle East was set back a day earlier at a regional conference in Bahrain, also said the Bush administration is under no illusions about the difficulty of spreading democracy in the region.

“We are not naive about the pace, or difficulty, of democratic change,” Miss Rice said, “but we know that the longing for democratic change is deep and urgently felt.”

Profound change is under way in the Middle East, Miss Rice said near the close of a diplomatic trip that will end today with condolences for the 57 persons killed in a terrorist bombing in Jordan.

“We have hope for peace today because people no longer accept that despotism is the eternal political condition of the Middle East,” she said.

The hard-line Mr. Ahmadinejad was the surprise winner in June elections in Iran, and he immediately set about undoing the reforms and international outreach of the previous Iranian government.

“When we look at a country like Iran, we see an educated and sophisticated people who are the bearers of a great civilization,” Miss Rice said. “And we also see that as Iran’s government has grown more divorced from the will of its citizens, it has become more threatening, not less threatening.”

The United States and European nations are at odds with Iran over the future of its nuclear program, with a key meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency approaching on Nov. 24.

In Bahrain Saturday, a U.S.-backed summit meant to promote political freedom and economic change in the Middle East ended without a planned agreement on democratic principles.

The declaration was shelved after Egypt insisted on language that would have given Arab governments greater control over which democracy groups receive money from a new fund.

Miss Rice gave cautious encouragement to lesser reforms in Saudi Arabia and Egypt in yesterday’s address.

She met with Saudi leaders earlier yesterday in Jidda and said that although Saudi Arabia can do more to root out the sources of terror financing, the two countries share a commitment to fight terrorism.

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