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U.S. Secretary Of State To Chart 'New Path' In Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank, then continue on Brussels and Geneva.
(RFE/RL) -- One week after a whirlwind tour of Asia, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will set off on March 1 for the Middle East and Europe.

Clinton will visit Egypt, Israel, and the West Bank to examine prospects for charting a "new path" in the region, U.S. officials say.

On March 2, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, U.S. officials have said Clinton will make a U.S. pledge of some $900 million to contribute to rebuilding Gaza in the aftermath of its recent war with Israel. Palestinian official are hopeful total donations will cover their estimate of some $3 billion in total damage.

Envoys from some 80 countries will attend the Gaza donors conference. George Mitchell, the Obama administration's special envoy for Mideast peace, will accompany Clinton.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs Gaza, will not be there. The Palestinians will instead by represented by President Mahmud Abbas, who is expected to meet with Clinton when she later visits the West Bank.

U.S. officials say Clinton hopes to test the prospects for peace and strengthen the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. But her visit comes at an awkward time.

Hawkish former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears likely to form a government with nationalist and religious parties opposed to peace efforts with both the Palestinians and Israel's Arab foes.

U.S. officials have also said they want to open a dialogue with Syria, but they also have said there are no plans for Clinton to meet with her Syrian counterpart at the conference in Egypt.

Talks With EU, NATO, Russia

From the Middle East, Clinton will fly to meetings in Brussels with NATO and European Union officials. The she heads to Geneva for talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on arms control and Afghanistan.

Those talks are likely also to touch on the controversial U.S. plans to install a missile-defense system in Central Europe. The Obama administration has suggested those plans could be put on hold, a possibility Lavrov is certain to probe with Clinton, as he suggested on February 26 at a news conference in Moscow.

"What we are concerned about are the plans to deploy a missile-defense system, as these plans affect our security, and we are holding consultations on this subject with our American, Polish, and Czech colleagues," Lavrov said.

Finally, Clinton caps her trip in Ankara for discussions with Turkish leaders.

Speaking on February 26 in Ankara, U.S. regional envoy Mitchell said Turkey's close ties with both Israel and Arab countries would help it to play a "key role" in the Obama administration's efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.

with agency reports