Condoleezza Rice's Visit to the Middle East: The New Face of U.S. Foreign Policy?

By Valenti, Peter C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2005 | Go to article overview

Condoleezza Rice's Visit to the Middle East: The New Face of U.S. Foreign Policy?


Valenti, Peter C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


As part of a seven-day diplomatic tour of Europe and the Middle East, secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Middle Eastern leaders from June 18 to 21. Following stops in Ramallah, Jerusalem, Amman, Cairo and Riyadh, Rice headed to Belgium on June 22 for the International Conference on Iraq. In addition to her high-level meetings with the region's leaders, Rice also held numerous press conferences and sat down for interviews with various news agencies, including Israel's TV2, Egypt's Nile TV, Dubai-based Al Arabiya and Iraq's Al-Iraqiya.

Because of the intense media coverage of her tour, Arabs heard plenty of Rice's statements on such issues as Lebanon's elections, Syria's intransigence, spreading democracy in the region and Israel's planned pullout from Gaza. Naturally, Arab analysts and media commentators had a lot to work with.

In general, Rice was well received. Commeriting on Rice's emphasis on democratizing the region in her speech at the American University in Cairo, the June 21 edition of Egypt's al-Ahram editorialized, "No one differs with Ms. Condoleezza in the importance of democracy, nor with the development of the institutions with which to realize it, nor with the importance of holding free and honest elections in Egypt whether [for] the presidency or parliament."

Unfortunately for Rice, as Abdullah alQaq explained in his June 20 op-ed in Jordan's Addustour, many people in the region see Washington's policies in the region as Janus-faced. "The reality is that the campaign initiated by America through its secretary of state and its envoys dispatched to the different nations of the world will [ultimately] be impotent in effecting its goals," al-Qaq predicted, "as a result of the American administration's loss of its credibility because of American violations of human rights in Guantanamo and Iraq..."

As proof of al-Qaq's claims, for example, letters to the Saudi Asharq al-Awsat reacting to its June 21 coverage of Rice's visit to the Kingdom voiced suspicion. Proclaimed one letter-writer, "It seems that Ms. Rice still dreams of the need to spread democracy the American way. Yet the game has been revealed. This democracy of theirs in Iraq is an excellent indication of their sincerity."

The lead editorial in the June 20 Addustour noted that the new U.S. secretary of state also must put her diplomatic spin on a new reality. "The role of the United States has changed completely from being considered a sponsoring nation of the peace process in the region since it has become one of the warring nations in the region," the editorial pointed out, "and now it wants to secure an amicable atmosphere with the traditional sides of the conflict without resolving the situation in any fundamental way..."

Of course, Rice fielded many questions from local reporters about her role in furthering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and pushing implementation of the road map. With both a positive and hopeful tone, the June 19 editorial in the Palestinian al-Quds argued that both Rice's visit and President George W. Bush's recent White House meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are "tangible indications of the concern and attention of the United States to move the Palestinian-Israeli peace process forward."

However, the editorial noted a key discrepancy in U.S. diplomacy. Reviewing the May 26 meeting between Bush and Abbas, the editorial pointed out that Bush himself called for Israel to "remove unauthorized outposts and stop settlement expansion" and for its forces to "withdraw to their positions on September the 28th, 2000." These statements prompted al-Quds to ask, "Will it come to pass that these American proclamations and demands will be conveyed to the Israeli government, or will the purpose of [Rice's] visit be diminished to merely coordinating the evacuation of the [Gaza] settlements...and to repeat American demands of the Palestinians to dismember organizations which [the U. …

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