Condi Rice 298.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heard from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday about his detailed expectations for the US-hosted Mideast conference.
The Palestinians want to formulate a joint document with Israel, which would at least give an outline of how to solve the key disputes in the conflict. The document must be completed before the start of the conference, which would then be used as a launching pad for a resumption of peace talks, the Palestinians say.
Rice is on a four-day shuttle mission, trying to create some common ground ahead of the meeting. A State Department official hinted on Sunday that the conference, expected to take place in Annapolis, Maryland, in late November, might be postponed because of the gaps between the two sides.
Abbas aides said they were concerned that Rice cautioned over the weekend against expecting breakthroughs during her meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders. She also plans a trip to Cairo and talks in London with King Abdullah II of Jordan.
"With her statement yesterday, Dr. Rice reduced the Palestinian hopes for the conference," said Nabil Amr, an Abbas adviser. "We didn't expect her to come with this direction. The US is a party to this conference, and we expect it to exert efforts to make it succeed."
Abbas would also complain to Rice about recent Israeli land expropriations in the West Bank, Amr said. "This spoils the positive atmosphere that accompanied the call for the fall conference," he said.
Amr referred to land seizures for a road project that Palestinians fear is intended to tighten Israeli control over strategic West Bank areas near Jerusalem. Israel says construction is not imminent and is meant to ease Palestinian movement.
Rice delivered a rare warning to Israel not to take any steps that might erode confidence in the peace process. "This is a very delicate time," she said Sunday. "It's just a time to be extremely careful."
On Monday, Abbas and Rice met at his West Bank headquarters in the city of Ramallah.
Her trip was briefly delayed by what turned out to be a false security alert. Her convoy stopped at an Israeli fire station after Israeli police said they spotted a suspicious vehicle near a crossing point into the West Bank. The convoy moved on after 15 minutes.
On Sunday, Rice had held a first round of talks with Israeli leaders.
A US State Department official indicated afterward that the conference, called by US President George W. Bush, might have to take place later than expected.
"This is going to take some time," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations. "This is going to require a lot of hands-on American diplomacy. These are really tough issues."