Rice and Abbas to meet in West Bank

Abbas calls PM's initiative "positive step," springboard for further talks.

Rice Abbas 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Rice Abbas 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank this week in an attempt to build on momentum from a new truce in volatile Gaza, officials said Tuesday. The high-level meeting was announced a day after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table, saying his country would be willing to leave most of the West Bank to make way for an independent Palestinian state there and in Gaza. Rice's visit would add US heft to efforts to use the Gaza truce, which took effect Sunday, as a springboard for renewing long-stalled peace talks. Abbas, speaking in Jordan following talks with King Abdullah II, said Olmert's initiative was a positive step. Abbas said if Olmert's "intentions are good, then we can build on this (his initiative) in order to put forward a plan for future negotiations on all issues related to the Palestinian cause." The secretary of state, who is accompanying President Bush this week on his trip to neighboring Jordan, will meet Abbas on Thursday in the West Bank town of Jericho, said Saeb Erekat, a top Abbas aide. In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed Rice's plan to meet with Abbas in Jericho on Thursday. "That's the plan," McCormack said. The security situation will be on Rice's agenda, the spokesman said. Also, Rice "could possibly have a meeting" with an Israeli official, McCormack said. "We'll look at the sceduling and the timing," he said.