Page last updated at 20:37 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 21:37 UK

Rice defends Middle East legacy

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice being interviewed by BBC Arabic TV
Ms Rice said the US had helped advance the cause of freedom

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told the BBC she believes the Middle East is a better place for the policies of President George W Bush.

Asked to assess the outgoing US administration's legacy, she said she was especially proud of the situation in the Palestinian territories.

She insisted that what she called a US-inspired "freedom agenda" had taken hold in the Middle East.

Ms Rice also said Iraq had become a "good Arab friend" of America.

"The Middle East is a different place and a better place," Ms Rice told BBC Arabic TV.

Iraq, far from being destroyed, was fully integrated into the Arab world, she said.

Elsewhere, Syrian forces were out of Lebanon and women had the vote in Kuwait, she noted.

"Democracy is finally in the vocabulary of the Middle East in a way it was not before," Ms Rice said.

'Serious' peace process

She predicted that the "democracy agenda, the freedom agenda" would continue in the Middle East under the next US presidential administration because, she said, the people of the region wanted it.

Asked about what she was particularly proud of, Ms Rice responded:

"I don't think that you have had an administration that has more actively been seeking a Palestinian state...

"This president... has launched the most active and robust negotiations towards a two-state solution that perhaps the region has ever seen," she said.

"The Palestinians now have a peace process that is the most serious one in many many years."

Ms Rice, speaking just weeks before the presidential election, added that the US remained ready to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear programme but had to be wary.

"What we don't want to do is to give Iran cover to continue improving its nuclear programmes that could lead to a nuclear weapon," she said.

Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons and says its programme is purely a civilian one.

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