US: Israel, Palestinians need to show progress in secret peace talks

The Bush administration has told Israeli and Palestinian leaders they will need to show progress in their secret talks soon, or risk a potentially fatal erosion in public support for a process now in its sixth month without any obvious successes. The news comes as President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit Israel and Arab states starting Tuesday, adding to public pressure to demonstrate that US-sponsored peace talks are bearing fruit. However, diplomats said the warning by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not tied to the president's visit and that she left it to both sides to determine what to do next. Rice passed the message during meetings with both sides a little more than a week ago, Arab, US and other Western diplomats said. Rice was reacting mainly to the increasingly pessimistic Palestinian assessments of the talks, but she warned that confidence was fragile among Israelis, too. "We talked some about the perception that they're just having endless talks," Rice told reporters later, without mentioning the warnings she had raised in private. "They simply don't see it that way." Rice did not present the Israeli and Palestinian leaders with any specific US proposal to show momentum, but several ideas are in play.