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Rice defends U.S. on Al Jazeera network

Condoleezza Rice: "Our policies toward Iraq simply are to protect the region and to protect Iraq's people and neighbors."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Speaking on the popular Arabic language Al Jazeera network, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Monday the United States would continue its support of U.N. sanctions against Iraq and is urging Palestinians and Israelis to make a lasting peace.

Rice also defended Bush administration requests to U.S. TV networks not to air taped messages from Osama bin Laden provided by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera.

"What we do not need is to have a kind of a free rein [for bin Laden] to sit and use the airwaves to incite attacks on innocent people," Rice said, emphasizing the United States supports the right of Al Jazeera to decide how it covers the news.

"If I did not have respect for Al Jazeera, I would not be doing this interview," she said. "I think it's important that there be a network that reaches broad Arab audiences, and the United States believes in freedom of the press. We believe that the press is one of the most fundamental bases for democracy."

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In excerpts of the interview provided to CNN, Rice defended U.S. policy of maintaining U.N. sanctions on Iraq.

"This is a country that has threatened its neighbors, that has been harmful to its own people," Rice said. "And we believe that our policies toward Iraq simply are to protect the region and to protect Iraq's people and neighbors."

She noted that people in northern Iraq, where the United Nations administers an oil-for-food program, live in substantially better conditions than those in areas where the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein administers the program.

That shows U.S. policy is not to blame for Iraqi suffering, Rice said.

Rice addressed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying the Bush administration "fully agrees" that both sides should seek to resume the peace process by following a road map laid out by a commission headed by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell.

"The president has been very active in asking both sides to do what they can to make certain that we get into the Mitchell process," she said.

"He has asked [Palestinian] Chairman [Yasser] Arafat to make a 100 percent effort to arrest and deal with terrorism and violence toward Israel. He has asked [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ariel] Sharon to do nothing to make the situation worse.

"There have been security talks between the two sides that are sponsored by the United States. And so we are hopeful that the two sides will be able to get into the Mitchell process. We think that that's the way to get back to discussions of a final status [settlement]."


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