CAIRO, Egypt - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Islamic militants to cooperate with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, saying the Hamas government cannot govern in the region.
Rice was to meet Wednesday with Abbas as part of her visit to the Middle East. She is seeking to boost Abbas in his standoff with Hamas radicals who control part of the Palestinian government.
Rice got both a polite hearing and a lecture Tuesday from United States' two most powerful friends in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia and Egypt both said the Middle East's many volatile conflicts are hinged to Israel's long conflict with the Palestinians.
Arab nations, including the few moderate states that are key to U.S. goals in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon, view improving the Palestinians' lot as essential. They argue that the festering grievances of the stateless Palestinians feed unrest and radicalism elsewhere.
"The issue is how to make peace, and in order to make peace you have to identify the problem," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said during a sometimes strained news conference with Rice.
"We think and we claim and we keep telling everybody that it is the Palestinian problem, and the lack of a settlement for the Palestinians. The Palestinian problem is the scourge of this region," Gheit said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the nearly 60-year-old conflict was creating a "breeding ground for extremism."
"There is a very short step from extremism to terrorism," Saud said with Rice by his side in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. "And ever since the problem arose of Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the region has been destabilized."
Rice's talks in Ramallah will be the administration's third meeting in less than three weeks with Abbas, whom President Bush called a "man of courage" for trying to revive Mideast peace talks.
Rice wants Saudi Arabia and Egypt to put greater diplomatic muscle behind the secular Palestinian president in his standoff with Hamas militants, and to bolster moderate secular governments in Lebanon and Iraq.
Rice met in Cairo with diplomats from Egypt and seven other Arab allies in hopes of reviving the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process and making headway on other regional issues. During that session the ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council and Egypt and Jordan gave broad support to Abbas, Rice said.
Egypt is a longtime mediator among Palestinian factions and between Israel and the Palestinians, and its exasperation with Hamas may signal a turning point.
Israel wants to reopen dialogue with Abbas and work with him to establish a Palestinian state. But Abbas has been in a weakened position since January when Hamas, which seeks the destruction of Israel, won the Palestinian elections.
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