Rice puts off expected trip to Mideast

/ Source: The Associated Press

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is deferring an expected trip to Egypt and other Mideast countries next week, confining her travels to a conference in London on assisting the Palestinian Authority.

The Middle East stops were never announced officially. But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Friday in providing the revised schedule that there had been “some consideration to going out to the region at this time,” especially since Egypt was to host a meeting between the G-8 economic group and the Arab League.

The decision not to go apparently caught Egypt off-guard. The country’s major pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, reported Friday that Rice would be in Egypt next Saturday.

Egypt last Sunday postponed the G-8-Arab conference on promoting democracy in the midst of a dispute with the Bush administration over the jailing of a political activist.

Concerns over politician's arrest
Rice had registered her “very strong concerns” about the detention of Ayman Nour, the leader of an opposition party, when she met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Tuesday in Washington.

Boucher said she would reschedule a visit to the region “at a fairly early date.”

A senior U.S. official, citing Rice’s displeasure with the arrest and other internal actions taken by the Egyptian government, said change was needed and she wanted to see what steps were taken before going to Cairo. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity.

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said in an interview that he hoped Egypt “gets the strong message that the United States will not look the other way anymore, that the suppression of democracy is no longer a matter of purely domestic affairs in a country.”

Last week, Schiff introduced a resolution deploring Nour’s arrest and calling on Rice to reconsider attending the Cairo conference.

Rice met recently with Egyptian official
Boucher pointed out, meanwhile, that Rice had met recently in Washington with Aboul Gheit and other Arab ministers.

She also will have a chance to confer with Arab officials at a conference beginning Tuesday in London to support the Palestinian Authority as it undergoes changes.

She will also meet with senior U.N., European and Russian officials in London on their “road map” they jointly produced in the hopes it would spur Israel and the Palestinians to hold negotiations on a settlement.

Some 30 delegations are expected to attend the London conference.