As the administration of US President George W. Bush enters its final weeks, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was due in New York yesterday in a bid to keep Middle East peace talks on track and turn up the heat on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
During talks at the UN, Rice will also discuss how to tackle a surge in piracy off Somalia’s coast, check Iran’s nuclear ambitions and deal with the fallout from the terrorist attacks in India, officials said.
Her two-day visit to the heart of world diplomacy highlights many of the daunting challenges Bush’s administration will hand over to US president-elect Barack Obama when the White House switches occupants on Jan. 20.
Palestinian-Israeli peace remains a priority for the Bush team, which hoped the parties could clinch a deal within a year when it revived the negotiations in Annapolis, Maryland in November last year, after a seven-year hiatus.
But it is now settling for just keeping the process going as Rice met yesterday with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Former British prime minister Tony Blair was also due at the talks as the quartet’s envoy.
The US, the UN, Russia and the EU make up the Middle East quartet, which has endorsed a roadmap for a Palestinian state to coexist peacefully alongside a secure Israel.
Speaking to reporters on his way to Afghanistan late on Sunday, Bush said that he saw “a way forward now” to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute.
“The big sea change in the Middle East on this issue is that by far the majority of people recognize that the only way to peace is two states,” Bush said. “And in 2001, that was not the case.”
He noted that in 2001, most of the Israeli political class believed that a greater Israel was the only way to have security and the Palestinian Authority could not deliver peace.