SEA ISLAND, Ga. – President Bush's national security adviser accused Arabic-language broadcaster Al-Jazeera (search) on Monday of "purely inaccurate" reporting, suggesting the Qatar-based satellite station was presenting a biased account of developments in the Middle East.
Condoleezza Rice's (search) complaint came as she and other administration officials defended the Arab-world guest list for this week's international economic summit here.
Many key players in the region — including Egypt (search) and Saudi Arabia (search) — will not be attending, even though efforts to promote democracy in the Middle East are a key theme of this year's Group of Eight (search) summit of wealthy democracies.
The G-8 members will meet over lunch Wednesday with the leaders of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Jordan, Turkey, Yemen and a representative of the new Iraqi interim government to discuss Bush's proposal for a broader Middle East initiative.
A leaked draft of the proposal caused an uproar in Arab nations that perceived it as an arrogant America pushing its own ideas.
"Nobody really believes that democratic development can be somehow forced from the outside. That's simply not the case," Rice told reporters at a press center in Savannah, Ga., set up for the summit.
"That the Middle East is a region that is in need of change is a view that is shared by everyone who is coming to the summit, and certainly by the members of the G-8," she said.
A Bush administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the final document rejects the argument that Arab democratic reforms cannot occur until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (search) is solved.
The administration has said the conflict "should not provide an excuse 500 or 1,000 miles away to arrest a newspaper editor or imprison an opponent of the government," said the official, who spoke to hundreds of journalists covering the summit here but insisted on anonymity.
Rice was asked if the U.S. government wanted to shut down Al-Jazeera.
"I don't think anybody has suggested the shutting down of Al-Jazeera," she said.
"I do think people have suggested that it would be a good thing if the reporting were accurate on Al-Jazeera and if it were not slanted in ways that appear to be at times just purely inaccurate," Rice said.
Qatar (search), where Al-Jazeera is based, and where the U.S. command center for the Iraq war was based, is not among the Mideast countries that will be attending the summit.
In Doha, Qatar, the channel's spokesman, Jihad Ballout, called the criticism unwarranted.
"Al-Jazeera is a professional news organization," he said. "We are not pro anybody or against anybody."
Defending the summit guest list, Rice said, "The people who were invited ... wish to have an opportunity to talk with members of the G-8 about the deepening and broadening efforts at reform that are taking place in the Middle East as indigenous efforts."
Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco declined U.S. invitations to attend.
Rice said that there were specific reasons in each case — Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had recently visited the United States, for instance — and that the administration did not view it as a snub.
Not all nations in the region were invited, she conceded.
She was also asked about reports that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (search) has told Mubarak that he accepts his demands for Palestinian security reforms.
Palestinian officials said over the weekend that Arafat had sent a letter to Mubarak responding positively to Cairo's recent proposals for the future of Gaza (search). Egypt, which borders Gaza, supports a plan by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon calling for the complete withdrawal of Israeli settlements in Gaza by the end of 2005.
Mubarak has promised to help train and reform Palestinian security forces. Rice said she couldn't say exactly what the new Palestinian statement means.