Trilateral summit makes little progress

PM, Rice, Abbas reaffirm commitment to road map, agree violence not solution.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Talks between US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, initially billed as a new US push to restart peace efforts, ended Monday with little progress other than a commitment to meet again. In a 90-second statement following the two-hour meeting, Rice said that the two sides exchanged views of the political future and agreed to hold another summit. Neither Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas nor Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined Rice as she delivered her statement, and she left the room without taking questions from reporters. Israeli and Palestinian officials were not immediately available for comment.
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  • Palestinians: Rice-Abbas talks 'difficult' The meeting was beset by low expectations amid US and Israeli dissatisfaction with a Palestinian power-sharing deal. It got off to a lackluster start, with Rice, Abbas and Olmert clasping hands together and flashing polite smiles for the cameras in an unadorned hotel conference room. The three met without any aides, except for Rice's Arabic interpreter, officials said. After about an hour, they moved to Rice's suite overlooking Jerusalem's Old City, continuing talks for another hour in a more comfortable setting. The three leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the internationally backed "road map" peace plan and agreed that a solution to the conflict will not be "born of violence," Rice said. "The president and prime minister agreed that they would meet together again soon. They reiterated their desire for American participation and leadership to overcome obstacles, rally regional and international support and move forward toward peace. In that vein, I expect to return to the region soon," Rice said after the meeting. Olmert was to meet with members of his Kadima party later Monday to discuss the talks. Rice reported no progress in restarting final-status talks, the ostensible purpose of the meeting when it was announced last month. Expectations for the talks plummeted last week after Abbas and Hamas, which controls the Palestinian parliament, agreed to a power-sharing deal that fell short of meeting international demands. The international community has demanded that any Palestinian government recognize Israel, accept previous peace deals and renounce violence, but the coalition deal, forged earlier this month in Saudi Arabia, only pledges to "respect" past peace agreements. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the first third of Monday's meeting focused on the unity deal. Rice told US journalists on Sunday night that Washington would "withhold judgment" on the coalition agreement until it was fleshed out. But she acknowledged that the outlines didn't meet the international conditions put forth by the Quartet of Mideast negotiators _ the US, European Union, UN and Russia. "If there's going to be a Palestinian state, then the Quartet principles would obviously have to be recognized because ... this is the foundation for peace," she said. "I haven't seen anything to date that suggests that this is a government that's going to meet the Quartet's principles, but you know...we will see once the government is formed," she said. Abbas has said that this is the best deal he could wrest from Hamas, and that he would move ahead with forming a coalition. The power-sharing deal is seen as crucial to halting deadly Hamas-Fatah fighting that has killed dozens in recent months. In talks with Rice on Sunday, Abbas portrayed the coalition accord as an achievement, saying it has helped moderate Hamas, whose charter calls for Israel's destruction. Abbas also emphasized that he, not the government, would handle any negotiations with Israel, his aides said. Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan called Monday's summit a failure. "Rice did not succeed in pressuring President Abbas to withdraw from the unity government. We call on the US administration to respect the Palestinian people's will and recognize the government and open a dialogue with the government," he said. Rice said Sunday the US would continue to work with Abbas "because he is committed to the road map and he's committed to the Quartet principles." But the Palestinian president is liable to be weakened if tethered to a coalition government that does not conform to the international conditions. Olmert, who met separately with Rice on Sunday, said Israel would not deal with a government that doesn't recognize the Quartet principles. But on Monday, his spokeswoman, Miri Eisin, repeated the prime minister's position that Israel would continue to deal with Abbas directly. She acknowledged that expectations of the summit had been lowered, but said the meeting was significant because Olmert and Abbas, who rarely speak face to face, were "sitting and having dialogue."