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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 March 2007, 23:19 GMT
Rice begins new Mid-East mission
Condoleezza Rice in Aswan
Dr Rice held talks with Arab foreign ministers in Aswan
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has held talks with Arab foreign ministers in Egypt in a new effort to restart the Middle East peace process.

She urged Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates to take steps to improve relations with Israel.

Washington hopes broader Arab-Israeli reconciliation could help foster an Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Dr Rice will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on Sunday before continuing to Ramallah and Jerusalem.

She will hold talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and then Israel's Ehud Olmert before flying to Jordan for a meeting with King Abdullah.

The BBC's State Department correspondent Jonathan Beale, who is travelling with the US Secretary of State, said there was no sense that the meeting in Aswan had come up with any solutions to break the Middle East deadlock.

Iraq warning

Dr Rice's mission comes as a top US diplomat warned that strife in Iraq could be a danger to the whole Middle East.

You need the energy and the help of moving forward on the Arab-Israel side, not at the end of the process, but earlier on in the process
Condoleezza Rice

The outgoing US ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, said a sectarian divide was developing across the Middle East because of the bloodshed between Sunni and Shia Arabs in Iraq.

"It's in everyone's come together to contain and reverse that tendency towards polarisation along sectarian lines. This could destabilise the entire region," Mr Khalilzad told the BBC.

The US is keen for Arab states, who meet at a summit in Saudi Arabia on 28 March, to revive a 2002 Saudi initiative to resolve the Arab-Israeli problem.

The plan offers Israel normalisation of ties with Arab states if it pulls out of all Arab land it occupied in 1967.

Israel rejected the plan outright after it was first proposed at an Arab summit in Beirut in 2002 but Mr Olmert is now giving it a guarded welcome.

Focus minds

Ms Rice's trip is her seventh to the region in eight months and so far she has little to show for her efforts, our correspondent says.

Washington has not recognised the Palestinian unity government and refuses to deal with those ministers who are members of the Islamic group Hamas, which regards as a terrorist group.

However, Ms Rice and her officials are continuing to talk to Mr Abbas and other moderates.

Ms Rice will be aiming to focus minds on what she calls the political horizon of creating a peaceful Palestinian state.

The unity government was formed after Hamas - which has dominated the Palestinian cabinet since elections in January 2006 - agreed to share power with Mr Abbas's moderate Fatah faction.

The deal followed several months of fighting between the two groups, which left more than 140 people dead.

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