PM to give PA 6-9 months to negotiate

Olmert meets with Condoleezza Rice in preparation for first meeting with Bush.

ehud olmert 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
ehud olmert 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that he would be willing to give the Palestinians six to nine months to see if they would be willing to negotiate before he moves to unilateral steps. The prime minister detailed his convergence plan to Rice, but she did not comment on it, Israel Radio reported. In a dinner attended by the two, Olmert restated his commitment to the US-endorsed Road Map. The two met early Tuesday morning to prepare for the meeting that the prime minister will hold with US President George W. Bush later in the day. Olmert and Rice also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the status of the Palestinian Authority and the Iranian nuclear program. The summit between the two heads of state represents the first official meeting between them since Olmert was sworn in as prime minister. Teams of Israeli and US officials met Monday to discuss the language of the statements both leaders would give after their meeting Tuesday. Olmert and Bush's advisers could not reach an agreement regarding the issue of Olmert's plan for unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank. The Israelis asked that President Bush acknowledge in his remarks Olmert's plan as a positive course of action in case all sides reach the conclusion that bilateral negotiations with the Palestinians are not possible. However, Bush's advisers would like the president to refrain from any direct reference to the unilateral plan and to focus on the need for a negotiated agreement. Bush and Olmert will begin their White House meeting at 3 o'clock (Washington time) and will be together for two hours. At the end of the meeting the two leaders will address the press in the East Room and from their will go on to a joint working dinner. In his talks with Olmert, according to US sources, President Bush will try to get a better impression of the new Israeli PM and learn more both about his political power in Israel, and about his ability to move ahead with dramatic steps regarding the Palestinians. Bush and his advisers will also want to make sure that Olmert's plan to set Israel's borders unilaterally won't draw too much resentment on behalf of Israel's neighbors. The US believes that any move should be done in consultation with Jordan and Egypt. Olmert will also meet Tuesday with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. On Wednesday he is set to address a joint session of congress and before departing for Israel he will meet with a group of Jewish leaders.