'Rice trip must set conference's agenda'

Egyptian FM warns of "adverse consequences" if int'l Middle East gathering fails to revive peace process.

September 13, 2007 18:48
1 minute read.
'Rice trip must set conference's agenda'

Aboul Gheit 224.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit expressed hope Thursday that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's upcoming visit to the region will result in an agenda and location for a planned US-sponsored peace conference. US President George W. Bush in July called for a new conference to break the deadlock in the Mideast peace process, but the lack of an official agenda, location and timing for the meeting has been a cause for concern in the region. "We hope that we will have a clear idea over the American assessment of the situation and when and where the meeting will be held and what its agenda will be," said Aboul Gheit about Rice's visit, during a joint press conference with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. Rice's trip to the Israel and the Palestinian territories set for Sept. 19, will focus on urging Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to build on recent positive steps and lay the groundwork for the Mideast conference, tentatively scheduled for November, a spokesman for the State Department said Wednesday. The meeting, however, has run into skepticism from Washington's Arab allies who have noted that the lack of firm agenda risks turning the event into just an empty photo opportunity. Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Wednesday his country would probably not attend the conference if it did not tackle substantive issues, while Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak expressed his fears that the conference would amount to nothing if there was not proper preparation. Aboul Gheit, for his part, warned of "adverse consequences" if the gathering failed to revive the peace process. "If the meeting was held without achieving its goals of pushing forward the peace process to set up a Palestinian state, there will be adverse consequences," he said. Kouchner held hour and a half long talks with Mubarak and during his press conference acknowledged the lack of effort that had been exerted so far to prepare for the conference, though he remained upbeat about progress towards establishing a Palestinian state. The French diplomat's visit to the region, according to his ministry, is to help restart the peace talks as well as encourage dialogue between Lebanon's fiercely feuding factions.

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