DEAD SEA, Jordan – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice threw herself at two intractable Mideast problems — the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iraq — during a brief trip to the region, and encountered the reality that the U.S. has few options other than patience.
Attending a U.S.-backed Mideast democracy and development summit in Jordan, Rice used the opportunity to try to bolster a tenuous cease-fire in the Palestinian territory of Gaza and press influential Arab states to support fragile democratic governments in Iraq and Lebanon.
"Even when we disagree, we can do so with mutual respect, and without sacrificing the progress we can make together on our common goals," Rice said Friday.
After a meeting Thursday at the summit with foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Egypt and Jordan, Rice said area leaders said they want to do more to support the Iraqi government.
"I think really the political support rallying around the democratically elected government of Iraq and saying it has the support of this very important group of Arab states would be an important signal," Rice told reporters.
The White House hoped the conference — called the Forum for the Future — would showcase political progress in a part of the world dominated by monarchies and single-party rule. Last year, the U.S. walked away with agreements to create two international funds that would aid small business and non-governmental organizations in the Middle East.
But with critics questioning the viability of the new Iraqi government and the Palestinians struggling to assemble a government that would lift crushing economic sanctions, Rice was left with few options in forcing progress in the two conflicts — other than pressing regional governments to voice support for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
"Really as the Iraqis said to us today, reconciliation begins in Baghdad, not in Riyadh, not in Amman, it begins in Baghdad," Rice said Thursday. "And they understand that it's their responsibility to reconcile the various communities."
On Thursday, President Bush was briefed by U.S. and Iraqi officials on a plan to accelerate the capability of the Iraqi security forces so U.S. troops can come home sooner.
Adding to the skepticism surrounding Iraq's fate this week was a memo by Stephen J. Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, that cast doubts about al-Maliki's ability to stabilize Iraq.
Rice said Bush is considering all recommendations being made on Iraq and recognizes the Iraq war is not making as much progress as hoped.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Abbas — a member of the Fatah party — has been trying to create a new unity government that would lift an international aid boycott. But elected Hamas leaders have refused to meet demands by the West and Israel that they renounce violence against Israel and recognize it as a state.
Abbas said those negotiations were deadlocked.
Rice used her trip to the summit in Jordan to met briefly with Abbas in the West Bank town of Jericho. She also traveled to Jerusalem to meet separately with Israeli Prime Minster Ehud Olmert and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Rice said the U.S. was looking into aid for Palestinian security forces. She also said recent setbacks in the region were hard but more hopeful than the past when Saddam Hussein controlled Iraq, Syria occupied portions of Lebanon, and the Palestinians were led by Yasser Arafat.
"I don't consider what we've had before a stability," Rice said. "I considered it, then, a stagnation which then led to very unhealthy developments like the development of Al Qaeda."