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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 16:59 GMT
Rice trip to focus on Middle East
Condoleezza Rice greets state department staff
Rice got a warm welcome from staff on her first day at work on Thursday
Condoleezza Rice is making the Middle East the focus of her first overseas trip as the new US secretary of state.

The announcement came as a senior official said hopes for progress in the Middle East peace process were greater than they had been for four years.

Ms Rice, who will also visit eight European countries on the visit next week, was formally sworn in on Friday.

President George W Bush said she could fill the "big shoes" left by outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Ms Rice told those gathered for her swearing-in ceremony that she was honoured by the president's confidence in her.

She said now was the time "to make the world even safer and more free... the time for diplomacy is now".

"We at the department of state will conduct a foreign policy that sees the world as it is," she said.

"But we will not accept that today's reality has to be tomorrow's."

Ms Rice begins her new job with great energy, says the BBC's Justin Webb in Washington.

Her flying visit to Europe and the Middle East, which begins next Thursday, will take in the UK, Germany, Poland, Turkey, Israel, the West Bank, Italy, France, Belgium and Luxembourg.


There has been fresh optimism about the Middle East peace process since Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat - viewed as an obstacle to peace by both Israel and the US - died in November and was replaced in elections earlier this month by Mahmoud Abbas.

On Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon praised the actions of Mr Abbas in brokering a temporary ceasefire with militants and banning Palestinians from carrying weapons.

He said he believed "conditions are now ripe to allow us and the Palestinians to reach a historic breakthrough in the relations between us".

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Satterfield told reporters on Thursday: "We are at a moment right now which is, to put it mildly, hopeful."

He said opportunities for progress were greater now than at any previous moment in the last four years - but cautioned that fresh violence could put a settlement "out of reach".

President Bush has promised to make the creation of a Palestinian state one of his priorities, says our correspondent.

Ms Rice's first visit to the region will give him an opportunity to gauge how realistic that goal is, he adds.

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