- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the “uncertainty” of the new Palestinian government will complicate her peace mission in the Middle East next week and that Washington will not support the future Cabinet unless it recognizes Israel.

Miss Rice made her comments hours after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally asked Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Hamas militant group to form the next government after last week’s agreement between Hamas and Mr. Abbas’ Fatah faction in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s more complicated with the horizon of a government we don’t yet know what its character will be, but in the Middle East, if you wait for the perfect circumstances, I think you’ll probably never take an airplane,” Miss Rice, who leaves for the region today, told a small group of newspaper reporters.

“The efforts to try and get the Palestinians to live at peace, to stop fighting … is something that we understand and will support,” she said. “Whether or not we can then support the government that came out of that, I think we’ve been very clear: The Quartet principles will have to be respected.”

Those principles of the international mediators — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — are renouncing violence and accepting the Palestinians’ previous international agreements, as well as recognizing Israel.

Miss Rice said that when she meets with Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday, they will “begin a conversation” about “moving forward” toward a Palestinian state.

She will meet with them separately over the weekend and also will hold talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan and other Arab leaders in Amman, Jordan.

On her return, the secretary will stop in Berlin for a Quartet meeting on Wednesday.

Mr. Abbas also urged Hamas yesterday to accept the Quartet’s conditions so the West can lift a ban on financial assistance for the Palestinians.

That ban contributed to the inability of Hamas’ first government, which emerged from last year’s elections, to provide some basic services to the Palestinian people and even pay the salaries of some civil servants.

The United States and Europe have said Hamas, which they have designated as a terrorist organization, has to make a choice between terrorism and being a political party that fulfills its election promises.

Aides to Mr. Abbas were quoted by wire reports as saying C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, warned Mr. Abbas during a telephone conversation yesterday that Washington would not deal with members of the new government — even those from Fatah — unless it meets the Quartet conditions.

The aides also said that Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul-general in Jerusalem, delivered the same message to Mr. Abbas in person at a meeting in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The consulate confirmed the meeting took place but did not disclose its content.

Miss Rice declined to discuss private exchanges, though she said the administration’s message is the same in public and in private.

She also said that the United States will continue to deal with Mr. Abbas because he has demonstrated that he respects the Quartet’s principles.

The administration has pledged $86 million in aid for Mr. Abbas’ security forces, but Rep. Nita M. Lowey, New York Democrat and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, has blocked the funding.

“Early last week, I placed a hold on the $86 million,” she said yesterday. “It is imperative that we have a fuller understanding of exactly what the funding is for and what the situation is on the ground.”

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