Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Rice to Return to Middle East

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due in the region in mid October for further talks with Palestinian and Israeli officials ahead of the international peace conference scheduled for November in Annaheim in the U.S. Rice’s trip, which is planned for after the Muslim ‘Id Al-Fitr holidays, is intended to intensify pressure on Palestinian and Israeli leaders to reach a framework deal laying the foundation for serious peace talks ahead of the international gathering. The talks with the leaders in the region will also focus on setting up the agenda for the conference. In her statement at the U.N. General Assembly last week, Rice expressed hope at being able to gather the Israelis, Palestinians, Arab and other key players to the conference in order to give new impetus to Palestinian statehood.

Palestinians and some Arab states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have repeatedly asked the secretary of state during her previous trips to the region for a clear agenda for the conference in order to yield tangible results. A few weeks ago Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud 'Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to set up negotiating teams that would try to formulate the general outline of a peace deal ahead of the conference. The negotiating committees are scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss a deal on final status issues, including the shape of final borders and the fate of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. The Palestinians hope that talks with Israel will create a deal with a clear timeline to be used as the core of any future agreement, while Israel wants a more general declaration of principles.

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