Rice Cuts Mideast Trip Short

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) is deferring an expected trip to Egypt and other Mideast countries next week, confining her travels to a conference in London on assisting the Palestinian Authority.

The Middle East stops were never announced officially, but State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday in providing the revised schedule that there had been "some consideration to going out to the region at this time," especially since Egypt was to host a meeting between the G-8 (search) economic group and the Arab League (search).

The decision apparently caught Egypt off-guard. The country's major pro-government newspaper, Al Ahram, reported Friday that she would be in Egypt next Saturday.

Egypt last Sunday postponed the conference on promoting democracy in the midst of a dispute with the Bush administration over the jailing of a political activist.

Rice had registered her "very strong concerns" about the detention of Ayman Nour (search), the leader of an opposition party, when she met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Tuesday in Washington.

Boucher said she would reschedule a visit to the region "at a fairly early date."

A senior U.S. official, citing Rice's displeasure with the arrest and other internal actions taken by the Egyptian government, said reform was needed and she wanted to see what steps were taken in that direction before going to Cairo.

It seemed better to go a little later, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Boucher pointed out, meanwhile, that Rice had met recently in Washington with Gheit and other Arab ministers.

She also will have a chance to confer with Arab officials at a conference beginning Tuesday in London to support the Palestinian Authority as it undergoes reform.

At the same time, she will meet with senior U.N., European and Russian officials in London on "road map" they jointly produced in the hopes it would spur Israel and the Palestinians to hold negotiations on a settlement.

Some 30 delegations are expected to attend the London conference.