US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit the Middle East next week to press Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, the State Department said Wednesday, amid doubts from some Arab states about the usefulness of an international meeting she plans to host in the fall.
Rice will visit Israel and the Palestinian territories on September 19 and 20 to urge Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to build on recent positive steps and lay groundwork for the coming meeting that President George W. Bush announced in July, spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Her visit will follow an agreement reached between the two sides this week to set up senior negotiating teams with an eye toward reaching a general outline of a peace deal in time for the conference, which has yet to be scheduled but is expected in November.
"She's going to talk to each side ... about how we can help move that process forward," McCormack said. He would not rule out the possibility that Rice would bring Olmert and Abbas together for a three-way meeting.