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(photo credit: AP [file])
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his speech earlier this week, saying that his call for a renewal of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations was an important step that was likely to both contribute towards calm and advance the peace processes in the region.
During the meeting, Rice briefed Olmert on her meeting earlier in the day with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, and Olmert briefed Rice on his meeting with Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Sulieman, during which the two discussed the cease-fire, weapons smuggling into Gaza, and the status of negotiations for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit.
No progress made in Shalit talks
After her meeting with Olmert, Rice met with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Before the meeting, Livni said Olmert's speech was intended as a message to Palestinian moderates that "there is a political horizon," implying the possibility of a resumption of talks.
In his meeting with Rice, Abbas said that talks to achieve a national unity government aimed at ending an international aid boycott had reached a deadlock.
Rice, standing alongside Abbas at a joint press conference in the West Bank city of Jericho, said the US hoped to accelerate efforts to find a solution to the Israeli-Paelstinian conflict and to extend the scope of a recently declared cease-fire between the two sides.
Rice also said the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories, including what she called "humiliations," must be eased.
In a gesture of support for Palestinian aspirations, Rice said any future Palestinian state should be "viable" and "contiguous" and said no actions should be taken now to prejudge the outcome of a final peace deal. That was an apparent reference to Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank.
Abbas said he lamented the difficulties surrounding efforts to form a joint government between the Palestinians' current Hamas rulers and Abbas's own Fatah Party. Such a government is seen as key to lifting an international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority.
"We have discussed our efforts to form a national unity government. We have exerted efforts, we have worked in many directions, but unfortunately we have hit a dead end," Abbas said.
Rice was also scheduled to meet separately with Prime Minster Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem. She will also meet Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni while in Jerusalem.
US officials say they do not expect Rice to walk away with a long-term peace deal between the two sides. But her trip throws notable US weight behind a cease-fire announced last weekend and bolsters the hope of renewed peace talks. The cease-fire ended a five-month IDF offensive in the Gaza Strip and the firing of rockets by Palestinian terrorists into Israel.
A senior US State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, said the United States would like to see the cease-fire extend beyond Gaza to the West Bank. He said Rice's meetings Thursday were intended to press the two sides on their commitment to peace.
Rice also would likely try to determine how close the Palestinians were to brokering a political deal that would satisfy the West and Israel, the official said.
Rice's senior adviser on Iraq, David Satterfield, said the Palestinians have to form a government that can deal with Israel and recognize its right to exist. And that is why, he said in an AP Television interview in Washington, the administration hopes Abbas would form a government without including Hamas.
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