Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivered a subtle mea culpa at the United Nations on Monday - saying the U.S. may have contributed to a "freedom deficit" in the Middle East by not pushing harder for democratic reforms.
"We are more secure when democracy is on the march, and more vulnerable when it is not," Miss Rice told reporters.
She said that U.S. partners usually shared American-style values, but "not in the Middle East, where we focused on stability at the expense of values."
"We didn't talk much about democracy in the Middle East. As a result, we probably contributed to what the Arab Human Development Report called a 'freedom deficit' in the Middle East."
She was referring to a 2002 report by the U.N. Development Program, which compiled statistics on literacy, democracy, women's rights, knowledge sharing, poverty abatement and other virtues.
It found that by most indicators, the Arab world lagged behind Europe, Latin America and much of Asia.
Miss Rice's news conference Monday followed a meeting of the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators.
Quartet members - the U.S., Russia, European Union and the United Nations - said in a statement that a peace effort begun in November at a conference in Annapolis should continue.
"These negotiations should be intensified in order to put an end to the conflict and to establish as soon as possible the state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel," the group said in a statement.
It condemned "indiscriminate attacks" on Israel and urged Palestinians to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism.
It also urged Israel to freeze all settlement activities.
Miss Rice began her stint as secretary of state in 2005 with a trip to Egypt, in which she vowed to reverse U.S. policy in the region dating to World War II.
"For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither," Miss Rice said in a speech at the American University in Cairo at the time.
"Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people," she said. At the time, Egypt was preparing for elections and the U.S. was pressing for the introduction of multiparty democracy.
Nearly four years later, Miss Rice is making what is most likely her final visit to the United Nations as America's top diplomat.
Her agenda includes the Middle East, a humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and piracy off the coast of Somalia.
On Monday, she joined U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and foreign ministers from Russia and the European Union to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We have been working closely to accelerate the peace process," Mr. Ban said afterward.
"With our Arab partners, I'm sure we will continue to promote the acceleration of the Arab peace initiative even after the transitions of governments in the United States and Israel and Palestine."
Mr. Ban was referring to a Saudi Arabian proposal in which Arab nations would establish former ties with Israel if Israel returns to its pre-1967 borders.
The Quartet members also met with representatives of the Arab League, composed of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The Security Council is expected to vote Tuesday on a U.S.-sponsored resolution supporting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process as the administration of President-elect Barack Obama prepares to take over.
Elections in Israel and the Palestinian territories are slated early next year.