Rice due to meet again with PM, Abbas

Despite skepticism, Egyptian FM says his country will back US-sponsored Middle East parley.

By
October 16, 2007 23:18
3 minute read.
Rice due to meet again with PM, Abbas

rice gheit 224 88. (photo credit: AP)

 
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US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, fresh from gaining renewed Egyptian support for the planned US-backed Mideast conference, is scheduled to meet both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for a second round Wednesday to narrow gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on the document to be discussed at the meeting later this year. Rice, plodding forward in her efforts to create a document acceptable to both sides, will meet with Abbas in the morning and with Olmert in the evening. In between the two she will meet Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who now heads Israel's negotiation team with the Palestinians. On Tuesday she went to Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit. After meeting Aboul Gheit, Rice said she would continue working with the sides to create a document to take to the meeting, and added that she felt that a date for the meeting would likely be set "fairly soon." Rice has made clear over the last few days that the meeting, expected to be held in Annapolis, would be held by the end of December. Israeli officials said that despite Egyptian skepticism over the meeting and comments made by Aboul Gheit that it should be postponed, there was never really any doubt that the Egyptians would take part. Aboul Gheit said his meeting with Rice on Tuesday "gives us a lot of trust and confidence" about American intentions for the conference, though he cautioned that preparations to hammer out the agenda could take more time. Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams met for a second time on Monday to try to thrash out details of the joint document. "So far, no advances have been made, and we are not deluding ourselves," Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said Tuesday. Israeli officials declined to comment on the meeting of the negotiating teams, beyond saying that "we are at the beginning stage." The Secretary of State, on a four day shuttle diplomacy mission, met with Olmert when she first arrived on Sunday, and held a three-and-a-half hour meeting with Abbas the following day. Rice is scheduled to leave Thursday for Britain and a meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II. In comments made to the traveling press earlier this week, Rice began to outline what the US had in mind as far as the document was concerned, and where the US stood on the Israeli-Palestinian disagreement over whether the document should be a broad-brushed one that deals in general terms about a political horizon, as Israel wants, or a detailed document with a set timetable, for which the Palestinians are pushing. "A document does not have to be detailed in order to be serious," Rice said. "It doesn't have to be detailed in order to be substantive. I think everybody understands that if it is going to address the establishment of a Palestinian state, then it has to address core issues." Rice said it was not reasonable to believe that the sides were going to be able to come up in the next couple of weeks with "answers about issues that have been on the table for decades." At the same time, Rice said both sides have indicated they wanted the document to signal "that there is a basis to move forward for the establishment of a Palestinian state. And that's really what I mean by serious and substantive, not that it has to be detailed in any way." Rice also defended the decision to call the meeting, despite the problems involved in its preparation, saying "something had to spark the region to take advantage of what was a slowly opening historic opportunity." She said the purpose of the meeting was "to stimulate the bilateral track with regional and international support to, after many years of frustration and many years of dormancy, establish that there is a basis for moving forward." AP contributed to this report.

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