PM, Barak, Livni discuss PA talks, despite dimming prospects

Diplomatic officials say such meetings are routine and do not presage any breakthrough.

livni olmert cabinet 224 88 (photo credit: AP [file])
livni olmert cabinet 224 88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Tuesday with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak to discuss the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, but diplomatic officials downplayed the significance, saying such meetings are routine and do not presage any breakthrough. While Olmert continues to say he is committed to reaching a "shelf agreement" with the PA by the end of US President George W. Bush's term in January, even if both sides agree to delay dealing with Jerusalem until a later date and under some kind of international umbrella, both Livni and Barak have indicated that the time element should not be a controlling factor. One diplomatic official said that whether or not US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice planned another trip to the region would be a good indication of how much more the Bush administration was willing to push on the issue. Rice was here last week for a 24-hour visit that yielded no dramatic breakthroughs, and the next key event is a meeting of the Middle East Quartet - the US, Russia, EU and UN - expected to take place on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Meeting later this month in New York. Even as tensions between Russia and the US were rising as a result of the situation in Georgia, one of the topics expected to be discussed at the upcoming Quartet meeting was a possible international conference on the Middle East in Moscow in November. While some American officials are saying it would be highly unlikely for the US to agree at this time to any conference of this sort in Russia, something that would be considered a "prize" for the Kremlin, there are other voices in the US government saying it would be counterproductive for the US to give Moscow the sense that the West was trying to marginalize and ostracize it. According to this school of thought, "throwing a bone" to Moscow on this issue could be a way to reduce the growing tensions on other matters. One Russian official said that holding the conference in Moscow could actually be in the US's interests since it was very unlikely that the Palestinians and Israelis would produce any kind of document on their own by the end of the year, and that if the US indeed wanted to see some type of joint declaration, the best place for that to happen would be at the end of an international conference, where joint declarations are expected. Also in Tuesday, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb arrived for a three day visit to Israel and the PA. He briefed Olmert on the situation in the Caucasus and the impact that conflict and the tensions with Russia would likely have on the global situation, according to sources in the Prime Minister's Office. Stubb was quoted on Saturday as saying that Russia's incursion into Georgia was reason for Finland to consider joining NATO. "The moment to take a decision [to join NATO] has yet to come, but we have to be flexible and to quickly adapt our security policy," Stubb was quoted as telling the Austrian newspaper Die Presse. A decision by Helsinki to join NATO would be highly significant, since Finland, with its 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, remained neutral throughout the Cold War. Stubb also met with Livni, and is scheduled to meet with the PA's President Mahmoud Abbas, Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki and senior PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei. Stubb will also visit the EU Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories, known as EU POL COPPS, and will meet with Finnish police experts working in Ramallah.