WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice renewed the Bush administration's support Tuesday for establishment of a Palestinian state in a talk with the Israeli leader standing in for the ailing Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
"That has been our policy and continues to be our policy," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said after Rice's telephone conversation with acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
With Sharon incapacitated and probably unable to resume his post, Rice's conversation with his fill-in and possible successor sought to make sure there is no backtracking on the statehood issue.
McCormack said Rice underscored to Olmert that "the United States supports the two-state vision of two states living side by side in peace and security."
Rice also monitored Israel's ongoing debate over whether Palestinians who live in Jerusalem would be permitted to vote in a Jan. 25 election.
Israel's defense minister had said Israel will allow Arabs in Jerusalem to vote in the Palestinian elections. But according to McCormack, Olmert told Rice the Israeli government had not taken a final decision on Palestinian voting.
Asserting U.S. neutrality on that issue, McCormack said, "She is not trying to put a finger on the scale."
"Whatever the solution is, it needs to be mutually acceptable to the Israeli side and the Palestinian side to take into account Israel's very real security concerns, while also addressing the Palestinian desire to have all Palestinians able to participate in these upcoming elections," he said.
Rice also spoke by telephone with Sharon's chief adviser, Dov Weisglass, and dispatched Assistant Secretary of State David Welch and Elliott Abrams of the National Security Council to the region to talk to Israeli and Palestinian officials.
The moves reflect an administration decision to remain on top of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, particularly Palestinian voting and Israeli security, but in a discreet way while Sharon is hospitalized.
Meanwhile, unannounced, Rice sent one of her closest aides, Jim Wilkinson, to Palestinian areas Tuesday to help Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and other officials to modernize their day-to-day operations. Wilkinson already has helped the Palestinians set up modern media facilities.