IMAGE: Condoleezza Rice
Lauren Victoria Burke  /  AP
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said additional funding is needed to strengthen Palestinian security forces.
msnbc.com news services
updated 12/15/2006 4:47:16 PM ET 2006-12-15T21:47:16

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that she intends to ask Congress for tens of millions of dollars to strengthen the security forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We will request funding to support the security reform (of Abbas’ forces) and I think we will get support,” Rice said in an interview with Reuters, adding that the aid would be in the range of tens of millions of dollars.

Touching on other topics during the interview, Rice:

  • Hinted at flexibility in next week’s six-country talks with North Korea, saying the negotiations are part of a process and cannot be judged by one session.

“This is going to be a process and so I don’t think we ought to try and judge the first step on its own merits but rather look at it as a part of a set of steps that we’re going to take toward denuclearization,” she said.

She insisted that U.N. sanctions imposed on Pyongyang for its Oct. 9 nuclear weapons test will continue to be enforced even if the six-country talks in Beijing show progress, which U.S. officials hope for but is not guaranteed.

  • Questioned why oil-rich Saudi Arabia might want nuclear power and said she wanted to know more about plans by Gulf states to study nuclear energy.

“I’d like to know more about it and I think it’s something that we should have discussions (about),” Rice said when asked about the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) decision to study a possible joint civil atomic program.

Need for nuclear power questioned
“I think one would have to wonder about the need of some states for nuclear power given their own energy resources,” she added. “It’s one thing for a state to be running out of natural gas in 34 years, which is the case of Egypt, it is quite another for the state to be the most oil-rich state in the world, “she added in a reference to Saudi Arabia.

The interview occurred shortly before Rice hosted a farewell lunch at the State Department for outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Department spokesman Sean McCormack acknowledged that the lunch took place against a background of U.S. bickering with Annan.

“Of course, there were differences,” McCormack said. “We all know what those differences are. We have talked very plainly about them. I think Secretary-General Annan has talked plainly about them.”

Speaking as the lunch was already under way, McCormack said Rice had no plans to use the occasion to debate differences.

Annan underscored his disagreements on Monday in a speech in Independence, Mo. When the U.S. “appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused,” he said.

He also made clear his view that the administration should be seeking a political settlement to the strife in Iraq, specifically suggesting a role for Iran and Syria in such a process.

The administration has said it will not reach out to those countries.

Bidding farewell to Annan
McCormack, in comments last Monday after Annan’s speech, said that given the nature of the Annan’s job, a “lockstep” relationship with the United States on issues of the day is not possible.

In Friday’s comments, he said he regretted that Annan did not use the speech to highlight the areas in which the United States and the United Nations have been able to cooperate. Rice alluded to several of these areas recently, citing the Global AIDS Fund, Sudan and ending the war between Israel and Hezbollah, McCormack noted..

Annan’s tenure also coincided with public displays of mutual antipathy between his top deputy, Mark Malloch Brown, and U.S. Ambassador John Bolton.

The State Department did not make a guest list at the lunch immediately available.

Former South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon was sworn in on Thursday to replace Annan, who served for 10 years.

President Bush hosted a farewell dinner for Annan on Dec. 5

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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