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Rice seeks Arab support in Hamas talks

U.S. secretary of state will push to isolate Iran in Mideast

From Elise Labott


Condoleezza Rice

CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- The United States and Egypt are pals, even if they don't agree on how to deal with the Hamas-led Palestinian government, Washington's top diplomat said Tuesday.

"Yes, Egypt and the United States are friends," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters after meeting with Egyptian officials on issues such as Hamas and Iran's nuclear program. "But friends also speak candidly to one another."

It was Rice's first trip abroad since Hamas won control of the Palestinian parliament. The Hamas-led parliament was sworn in Saturday, officially removing the ruling Fatah Party from its decades-long prominence in Palestinian politics.

Rice planned to ask Egyptian and Saudi Arabian officials to increase pressure on Hamas and withhold aid from the group until it renounces violence and recognizes Israel's right to exist.

Hamas has refused to do either and is considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.

The only reason for any country to meet with Hamas, Rice said, would be to deliver the message that it needs to comply with the demands of the international community.

"The Egyptians are having those discussions and, I think, doing very good work to try and convince Hamas that there is an international consensus to which, now, Hamas must respond," Rice said in an interview with Arab journalists.

After meeting with Rice, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ali Aboul Gheit said "we should give Hamas time" because he believes Hamas will evolve into a peaceful organization if other nations are patient.

"I'm sure that Hamas will develop, will evolve. We should not prejudge the issue," Gheit said. "We are sure that the Palestinians will recognize the requirements of the situation as they stand today, the road map, the need for a political, peaceful settlement amongst the Israelis and the Palestinians, the need to see the two states living side by side in secure and recognized boundaries for both."

Rice said she and Gheit agreed that former Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' interim government should be supported until a new government is named, and that the humanitarian needs of Palestinians remain important.

But, she said, Hamas cannot lead the Palestinian people peacefully if it has "one foot in the camp of terror and the other foot in the camp of politics."

The United States has said it will review all aid to the Palestinian Authority, and the PA has agreed to return $50 million meant for infrastructure projects in Gaza.

Iran's nuclear ambitions

During her trip, Rice also hopes to further Iran's isolation in light of the Islamic Republic's decision to enrich uranium. The United States and other countries say such a move is a precursor to obtaining nuclear weapons, but Iran insists its nuclear research is solely for peaceful purposes.

Rice will visit the United Arab Emirates, where she will meet with leaders from the nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council, comprising Iran's neighbors.

Rice will attempt to build on two years of patient diplomacy, which gained support from Europe, Russia and China for a tougher line against Iran. They all agreed with the United States last month that Iran should be reported to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. Egypt also supported the move.

Arab nations have balked at publicly expressing support for Washington's concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions, in part because of Muslim disfavor with U.S. policies in Iraq and Israel.

Rice hopes to convince these nations that Iran is destabilizing the Middle East by supporting extremist groups in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon and Iraq.

Rice told the journalists at the roundtable she hopes concerned Arab governments "are prepared to really say to the Iranians: 'You are going to be isolated from us, too, if you continue down this road.' "

The International Atomic Energy Agency will meet March 6 and is expected to report Tehran to the Security Council after Iran ended its cooperation with the nuclear watchdog agency.

Also Tuesday, Israel's representative to the United Nations dubbed Iran, Syria and Hamas an "axis of terror" and warned that the three provided the ingredients for "a recipe for the world's worst pandemic."

"Should we neglect this imminent threat, the axis of terror may be a seed of the first world war of the 21st century," Ambassador Dan Gillerman said in a briefing to the Security Council on terrorism.

The ambassador urged the council committees that deal with such threats -- those on counterterrorism, al Qaeda and the nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction -- to step up their fight against terrorism.

Gillerman said states that harbor terrorists and that promote a "culture of hatred and incitement" must be held accountable, and that finances supporting terrorist cells must be blocked.

CNN's Guy Raz and Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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