Olmert encourages Tunisia, Bahrain to attend ME summit

PM, Rice discuss peace process in J'lem; Peres: Sec. of state has brought us closer than ever to peace; Saudis pledge to attend conference.

rice livni jlem 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
rice livni jlem 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday encouraged Tunisia and Bahrain and other moderate Arab states to participate in the planned Middle East peace summit after meeting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Saudi Arabia had already pledged it would attend the summit. Olmert and Rice discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and talked at length about the Middle East conference, which was proposed by US President George Bush. Earlier Wednersday, President Shimon Peres said said that Rice has succeeded in leading a diplomatic process that had brought Israel closer than ever to the concluding chapter of negotiations with the Palestinians. Following her meeting with the president in Jerusalem, Rice also praised Peres's efforts in promoting peace and, prior to the meeting, Peres invited US President George Bush to visit Israel during its 60th anniversary celebrations next year.
  • Rice in Israel: Move 'to the next level' with PA Rice also met Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni before meeting Olmert. After Rice's meeting with Barak, the defense minister stressed the need to create a political horizon with the Palestinians and to ease restrictions on their daily lives. However, Barak stressed that the security of Israelis was the government's primary concern. The series of meetings followed Saudi Arabia's announcement that it would attend the Middle East peace conference in the fall. Responding to the declaration by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, Livni said that Israel would not miss the opportunity to maintain dialogue with the Palestinians. Faisal had told the visiting US secretary of state and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates that his country supported and would attend the conference which was proposed by Bush. "When we get an invitation from the minister (Rice) to attend, when this takes place, we will discuss it and we will make sure that we attend" the conference, Faisal had said. Livni said she viewed the summit as an "opportunity to the Arab world to support the bilateral process between Israel and the Palestinians." Before meeting Rice, Livni said that understandings reached between Israel and the Palestinians must be in accordance with the international community's demands. Livni went on to say that the West Bank could "be an example" for cooperation or negotiation with Israel. "The implementation of any kind of understanding between Israel and the Palestinian government can be in accordance to the places of the territories in which there is an effective government," Livni continued. Rice told reporters that ultimately the Palestinian people would have to "choose what kind of world they will live in" and what kind of state they will have. "We do have in the Palestinian territories a government that is devoted to the ... foundational principles for peace, and this is an opportunity that should not be missed," she added. Rice said that the Saudi foreign minister's announcement was "encouraging" although she stressed that the expectations of the summit had not yet been discussed. "I am encouraged by the attitude that I have seen here among all of the parties about the prospects of this international meeting," said the secretary of state. However, Rice said in response to a question about Saudi participation, "I think it's too early ... to issue invitations and certainly too early to expect people to say whether they will attend." In Jerusalem, meanwhile, the Prime Minister's Office responded to Faisal's statement, saying "we hope that many Arab countries will attend this international meeting, including Saudi Arabia." PMO officials said that they hoped the international gathering outlined by Bush on July 16 would bring a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which have no official ties. Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas called on the international community to help Palestinians reach a final status solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas was speaking to reporters following his meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah. Abbas said he would discuss the Middle East peace summit during Thursday's meeting with Rice in Ramallah.