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Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni made progress in her push for broader ties with the Arab world Tuesday, meeting with Qatari and Omani leaders during her visit to the United Nations.
Her unscheduled meeting with Qatari Emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani on Tuesday was the highest-ever level of contact between Israeli and Qatari officials, according to the Foreign Ministry.
A source in the delegation called the half-hour meeting, which took place in private Qatari offices outside the UN, "very, very warm." He also highlighted the willingness on the part of Qatar to make the event public as a sign of its significance.
Livni, who is pushing a program of gradual normalization with the Arab world, told Thani that moderate Arab countries have a very important role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, both by "reinforcing decisions" taken by both sides as legitimate and worth protecting and also by "strengthening bilateral channels."
Livni's strategy coincides with US efforts to have a wider array of Arab states and representatives backing peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians ahead of an international meeting planned for November.
Arab participation was important, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News, because "we really would like to see not just a Palestinian-Israeli track but really the Arabs need to get accustomed to the idea that Israeli is going to be there, too."
Rice again refrained from commenting on the alleged IAF attack on a possible Syrian nuclear site earlier this month, only telling Reuters interviewers, "We watch Syria and any number of other regimes very, very closely" when it comes to nuclear proliferation.
Livni was scheduled to meet with Turkish officials later in the day, and it was expected that the alleged attack would be raised. Turkey has been one of the few countries to criticize the alleged Israeli action, and the meeting later Tuesday was seen as an opportunity to repair the relationship.
The meetings with Qatar and Oman raise the prospect of the two countries' participation in the November meeting, which still lacks an official guest list. Israel has repeatedly said it would like more Gulf countries to attend, particularly Saudi Arabia.
Omani and Qatari diplomats said they were unavailable to speak to The Jerusalem Post Tuesday concerning their meetings with Israelis.
But on Monday night, Sayyid Badr, secretary-general of Oman's Foreign Ministry, appeared publicly with Livni at an American Jewish Committee event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Middle East Desalination Research Center.
It was the first time an Omani official appeared in public with an Israeli leader, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Jason Isaacson of the AJC said the possibility of an appearance in New York was raised at an earlier MEDRC board meeting by board members representing a range of Middle Eastern countries, including Oman and Israel.
In her speech Monday night, Livni stressed that "regional support for the bilateral process is critical for us to succeed." This support, she said, "comes through clear Arab and Muslim support for the new Palestinian government that is committed to the two-state solution, while rejecting the extremism that threatens the region as a whole," as well as "regional endorsement of any political agreements reached between the parties."
"It comes through enhancing and deepening regional ties between Israel and the Arab world, while in parallel we advance towards Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation," Livni said.
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