Rice to Press Arab Aid to Palestinians

The Bush administration is pressing wealthy Arab nations to dig deeper to help the new Palestinian government succeed, and to follow through on past financial pledges that have gone unmet.

Oil-rich Persian Gulf states such as Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain owe millions in pledges to support the Palestinian Authority (search), and other Middle Eastern nations with fewer resources are also in arrears.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) will make a direct pitch for greater Arab participation at a conference Tuesday in London. The British-led session is also meant to line up political support for the new Palestinian government of Mahmoud Abbas (search).

Rice was traveling to London on Monday. She will see Abbas there, along with other leaders of the international effort to help guide Israel and the Palestinians to a peace deal.

On the job a month, Rice was making her third trip abroad and her second with an emphasis on the Middle East. In addition to the peace process, she will use the London session to talk about Iran with European and other foreign ministers.

The Bush administration is showing signs of impatience with the slow pace of a European diplomatic effort to persuade Iran to give up ambitions for a nuclear weapon.

"We also continue to make clear that these are talks that need to head to a solution," White House national security adviser Stephen Hadley said last week.

Rice's trip originally was to include stops in several Middle Eastern countries after the London conference, but she abruptly canceled those plans on Friday amid disagreements with Egypt over the jailing of a leading opposition politician.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (search) called Saturday for freer elections, but the administration responded cautiously and Rice did not reinstate plans to visit Egypt this week. Mubarak has ruled unchallenged for nearly a quarter-century.

Rice had also planned to visit Saudi Arabia, which like Egypt is an ally singled out by President Bush in his State of the Union address to "show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

The administration points to Abbas' election as successor to the late Yasser Arafat (search) as one of several hopeful signs that democracy and reform are taking hold in the region. Abbas' government is threatened, however, by militant anti-Israeli violence that he may be unable to quell and by corruption and mismanagement in his own ranks.

The Palestinian Authority faces a potential shortfall of nearly a third of its planned $1.4 billion budget.

Bush has announced $350 million in U.S. help for the Palestinians this year. None of the money will go directly to the Palestinian Authority, in part because of concern about past corruption.

The administration maintains that Arab financial help and political support is crucial to solidify Abbas' control and increase the chances for peace.

Only Saudi Arabia has fully met its pledges. Libya owes $148 million, and Kuwait owes $140 million. Iraq owes $132 million and Egypt $105 million. Eleven other countries in the region owe lesser amounts.

Rice met with Abbas in his West Bank headquarters on a separate trip earlier this month. She also met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) in Jerusalem, and announced that both men will come to Washington for separate private meetings with Bush this spring.

For all that, the administration is trying to remain in the background as the two sides edge closer to a peace deal on their own.