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by RAY FLEMING
U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded her four-day visit of the Middle East with little to show for her efforts. She met the leaders of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and the other Persian Gulf states. Her visit focussed on two issues: persuading the leaders to refrain from providing further financial support to the Hamas government which has taken over the Palestinian Authority following its recent electoral victory; and listening to the anxieties of the leaders that the worsening unrest in Iraq will soon infect their own countries. On the question of funding for Hamas, reliable reports suggest that Dr Rice was not given any assurances. The leaders she talked with apparently take the view that Hamas won the Palestinian election fairly and have the confidence of the Palestinian people. If Israel, the United States and the European Union cut the aid on which the Palestinian Authority depends it would be only natural for Arab states to step in to replace it, in whole or in part. At the same time, however, the preference of these leaders appears to be that the US and EU countries, if not Israel, should continue their funding for some time in order to give the new Hamas leadership time to consider their policies, including their attitude to the recognition of Israel. Concerning the possible spread of insurgency from Iraq through the region, Dr Rice is known to have said that the violence will end “in time” and that Iraq will eventually get a non-sectarian government. However, speaking later to US reporters, she acknowledged that “There are Iraqis who don't want a national unity government to form.” That is an understatement. It would be closer to the truth to say that there are relatively few Iraqis who want a national unity government to be formed. The leaders of the other states in the region know this to be the case and fear that the sectarian conflicts in Iraq will spread to their own countries.