COMMENTS: Rice Relents

Middle East diplomacy was Story of the Day as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended a regional summit on the reconstruction of Iraq at the Sharm el-Sheikh resort in Egypt. Rice reversed her policy and abandoned her refusal to have contacts with Syria. Only CBS led with her initiative. NBC chose to publicize MSNBC's Campaign 2008 debate among ten Republican candidates. ABC opted to lead with a lavish but inconsequential photo-op--the visit of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II to Virginia.

Secretary Rice's meeting with Damascus' foreign minister made news despite her efforts to keep a low profile. The discussions were held behind closed doors so "there was not even a photo-op," CBS' Sheila MacVicar complained. ABC's Jim Sciutto (subscription required) reminded the Secretary that only four months ago she had argued that talks with Syria put the United States "in the role of supplicant." Why now? "They need to stop the flow of foreign fighters, the biggest source, probably, of suicide bombers," Rice replied. NBC's Martin Fletcher contrasted the half hour of "businesslike talks," in Rice's words, after "two years of hostile silence" with the criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month. She earned President George Bush's "wrath for doing the same thing in Damascus."

At the Pentagon, CBS' David Martin reminded us that it was five months ago that the Iraq Study Group recommended that Bush begin diplomacy with both Syria and Iran "with urgency and without preconditions." Martin asked ISG co-chairman Lee Hamilton what had happened. "Reality may have set in." ABC's Sciutto noted that the summit's host Egypt, along with fellow Sunni Moslem regimes in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, oppose close ties between the Shiite-led government of Iraq and its coreligionist neighbor Iran. Iraqi officials, on the other hand, now want the United States "to meet formally with Iran" too. "What will it take to meet with the Iranians?" CBS' MacVicar asked Rice. "The question really is: why will Teheran not talk to us?" she answered.


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