We have the extraordinary honor and pleasure today of having with us our most capable and most distinguished Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice. This is her third appearance before our committee this year, and we are deeply grateful that, despite her incredibly busy schedule, she has honored us yet again with a visit. As always, Madam Secretary, it is a great pleasure to welcome you here.

The topic of today’s hearing, US policy in the Middle East, is broad and multi-faceted. Among other things, it includes Iraq, Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process -- particularly the upcoming Annapolis meetings -- and the projected sale of advanced weapons systems to nations in the Persian Gulf. It also includes Iran, a nation about which both the President and Vice President have used some strong language in recent days.

Secretary Rice, who has just held extensive conversations both in Russia and in the Middle East, will be able to elaborate on all of these us, and we all look forward to her testimony.

Given the extreme importance of today’s hearing and the interest committee members have in using as much time as possible for direct questions, I will dispense today with an opening statement, and I recognize my good friend and colleague, the ranking minority member of the Committee, ms. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.