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Rice: Talk to Palestinians before Syria

Now is not the time for an Israeli-Syria peace track, Condoleezza Rice said. During her flight to Berlin Tuesday ahead of the G-8 major industrial nations summit, a reporter asked the U.S. secretary of state what she thought of reports that Israel’s leadership might de-emphasize the Israeli-Palestinian track to focus on peace overtures from Syria. “No one is opposed to Israel pursuing other tracks, including a Syria track. But my understanding is that it’s the view of the Israelis and certainly our view that the Syrians are engaged in behavior right now that is destabilizing to the region,” she said. “But it’s not a view that there shouldn’t be such a track. When it’s ready, it should be.” There is rising political pressure in Israel to respond to peace overtures from the Bashar Assad regime. The Bush administration is concerned that engaging Syria now will give Assad a free hand in interfering in neighboring Lebanon, which is struggling to maintain its independence since Syria ended its occupation two years ago. Rice said there is no substitute for Israeli-Palestinian talks in creating broader Arab-Israeli peace. “Everybody agrees that the Israeli-Palestinian track is extremely important for a number of reasons but also unlocks the key to the use of the Arab initiatives and further engagement between the Arabs and the Israelis,” she said. “There’s no substitute for trying to get to the place where the Palestinians finally have their state and the Israelis finally have a neighbor who can live in peace and security with them. It’s at the core of a lot of problems in the region.”