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OPT: Rice to discuss Gaza disengagement, democracy on Mideast trip

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By David Shelby, Washington File Staff Writer

Washington - The upcoming Israeli disengagement from Gaza and democratic reforms in the Middle East will be at the top of the agenda as Condoleezza Rice takes her third trip to the region since becoming secretary of state.

In a June 16 press conference, Rice said that her primary reason for going to Israel and the Palestinian Territories at this time is to talk to the parties about the preparations being made for Israel's planned disengagement from the Gaza strip. The plan calls for Israel to evacuate 21 settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank in August.

Responding to a question about contacts between European Union officials and the Palestinian militant group HAMAS, Rice said the U.S. policy with regard to the HAMAS has not changed. She said the United States would continue dealing with the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian Authority.

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Following her trip to the Middle East, Rice will travel to Brussels, Belgium, to participate in an international conference on Iraq. She said the purpose of this conference was to provide political support to the new Iraqi government. The secretary stressed that Iraqi reconstruction must ultimately be an Iraqi enterprise and not an American or coalition enterprise.

"Iraqis are becoming more and more capable every day of handling their own affairs. Their political situation and their administrative role are almost completely Iraqi now. So it will be too with their security forces," she said.

The secretary also spoke about reform movements at the United Nations, saying that it is important for everyone to focus on the true reform needs.

"I know that there is a lot of interest in Security Council reform, and I think we've signaled now that we are prepared to discuss expansion of the Security Council," Rice said, "but we are not prepared to have Security Council reform sprint out ahead of the other extremely important things that have to take place: management reform, secretariat reform, peace building, issues about non-proliferation, issues about how we build a democracy fund. These are core to what the U.N. is."

A transcript of the secretary's remarks is available on the State Department's Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)