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(photo credit: AP [file])
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is set to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas this weekend, on the sidelines of an international economic conference, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Thursday.
Erekat said the meeting between Abbas and Livni was scheduled to take place Sunday in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where both leaders would attend the World Economic Forum.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said in response that Livni's trip had not been finalized.
"No one on the Israeli side has said we will boycott Abu Mazen (Abbas)," he said when asked whether there was agreement in principle to hold the meeting.
Meanwhile, Israel's Ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon said Thursday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's scheduled trip to the US on Sunday presented a wonderful opportunity for Israel's new government to present its policies to the US president and to justify the much-maligned convergence plan.
"The convergence plan is not a backwards step, it is, rather, an intention of initiative towards making progress towards a final status solution in the conflict with the Palestinians," Ayalon told Army Radio.
He said that although time was ticking on the issue, the Iran matter was a more pressing concern for the international community. Ayalon claimed that US leaders held the view that progress was being made in US cooperation with the European Union, in accordance with the UN Security Council, with regards to sanctions on the Iranian government.
The ambassador said that Israel would not ask the US for direct financial aid to carry out the convergence plan, citing the recent flooding disaster in New Orleans, but that Israel could always count on Washington for support.
He said that the US government had great appreciation for Olmert and was eagerly awaiting his visit.
Ayalon stressed that the intention of the trip was also for the prime minister to endear himself to the US public, and not only to the US government.
The Prime Minister's Office on Thursday stressed the importance of presenting Israel as a country interested in dialogue during Olmert's visit to Washington.
Olmert said Wednesday that he is willing to meet with Abbas, but added he doubts that negotiations with a Hamas-led Palestinian government will get anywhere.
"I am committed to negotiating with the Palestinians and am aware of Abu Mazen's standing and respect him, but it is important to remember that he represents the [Hamas-led] Palestinian Authority and is not a private individual," Olmert told the visiting French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, according to a press release issued by the Prime Minister's Office.
"So long as the [Palestinian] Authority is ruled de facto by Hamas, we will have difficulty carrying out political negotiations," he said.
Olmert had been expected to meet the weakened Palestinian leader after returning from Washington, as well as meeting with both Arab and European leaders, but his remarks were the first public confirmation that he was prepared to attend such a summit meeting.