Rice Trip to Focus on Iran, Middle East

Iran's nuclear program, an upcoming Mideast summit and the next U.S. move in Iraq top a crowded agenda for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) during her weeklong trip to Europe and the Middle East.

Starting with a staunch ally on Iraq (search), Rice was meeting on Friday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Britain has provided strong political support leading up to the war and contributed a substantial number of troops.

The Europeans have offered Iran technological and financial support and have hinted at a trade deal if weapons development stops. They are hoping for a signal from the Bush administration that it supports their efforts to head off nuclear weapons development. The administration, however, has been cool to the European diplomacy, preferring economic penalties against Iran (search).

Bush, in his State of the Union speech Wednesday, said Iran was "the world's primary state sponsor of terror."

Rice is scheduled to visit eight European capitals and the Vatican as well as Jerusalem and the West Bank.

She will meet with Mahmoud Abbas (search), the new Palestinian leader, and also point to successful elections in Iraq last Sunday as proof of democratic advances in the region.

Egypt has summoned the leaders of Israel (search), the Palestinians and Jordan to a summit meeting next week, and they agreed to attend. In his budget request to Congress next week, Bush is expected to ask for $2.52 billion in military and economic aid for Israel and $350 million to help the Palestinian economy and security forces.

The request for Israel maintains that country's position as the largest recipient of U.S. aid, according to diplomatic sources. There would be a slight reduction, however, of about $60 million from the previous sum.

On Iraq, European leaders welcomed the voting last weekend. France and Germany, two countries where Rice will visit, criticized the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and are watching closely to see what steps the United States takes as Iraq tries to move toward democracy.