Report: Russia expects Israel-PA summit to yield fresh peace talks
Rice: Palestinian unity government complicates peace efforts; officials: U.S. will boycott new PA government.
Israel and the Palestinians are likely to agree to restart peace talks during the trilateral summit scheduled for Monday, Russias' RIA news agency quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying Friday.
"We expect this meeting will yield agreements about restarting talks on a definite framework for a conclusive resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," RIA quoted Lavrov as telling Russian journalists.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reaffirmed U.S. support for Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, even as she said his plan to govern alongside Hamas militants complicates U.S. peacemaking efforts.
Rice suggested Thursday that the Bush administration has strong reservations about Abbas' planned union with Hamas, but she would not confirm that U.S. diplomats have warned Abbas that Washington would shun the new government.
Rice said she will reserve judgment until the coalition government is formed and its policies clear. She said she has seen no evidence yet that the government intends to meet international demands to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by agreements made by the previous secular Palestinian government.
Rice spoke to newspaper reporters ahead of a Middle East trip that includes a joint meeting with Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday. It was the first time she has addressed the deal brokered last week in Saudi Arabia without U.S. help.
In an interview on Palestinian TV late Thursday, Abbas told his people the international boycott would not be lifted right away, but "we will fight and struggle, and we hope this can be accomplished soon, though there are still obstacles."
Officials: U.S. to boycott new PA gov'tThe United States will boycott all Palestinian unity government ministers, including non-Hamas members, unless international demands on policy towards Israel are met, Palestinian officials and diplomats said on Thursday.
The Hamas-led government resigned Thursday, paving the way for Abbas to officially ask Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to form the new coalition.
Some U.S. officials had been advocating a shift in Washington's position that would allow limited diplomatic contacts with cabinet ministers from Abbas' Fatah faction and other parties.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. would not make judgments about the government before it is formed and before it has an official platform. The U.S. administration also will watch the government's actions once it takes office, he said.
But a senior Palestinian official said: "The Americans have informed us that they will be boycotting the new government headed by Hamas. The Fatah and independent ministers will be treated the same way that Hamas ministers are treated."
Diplomats familiar with discussions on the issue confirmed Washington's intention to shun members of the unity government unless it satisfied international calls for Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept interim peace accords.
Abbas received word of the new U.S. position in a phone call from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch late Wednesday, Abbas' aides said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.
Jacob Walles, the U.S. consul general in Jerusalem, then delivered the same message to Abbas in person Thursday, the aides said.
The aides said the U.S. officials indicated that all members of the future unity government, including independents and those belonging to Fatah, would be shunned. The U.S. government would still maintain ties with Abbas and his office, the aides added.
Abbas planned to meet Saturday with Welch and Sunday with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, to try to change their minds, Abbas aides said. Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are to hold a joint meeting with Rice on Monday, though hopes for even a minor breakthrough at that summit were dampened by America's position on the new government.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat would only say that U.S. officials have made it clear to the Palestinians that any government must adhere to the principles laid out by the Quartet of Mideast mediators - recognize Israel, renounce violence and back previous peace deals with Israel
U.S. officials declined to comment and said Washington was waiting to see how a new government would shape up.
Talks on 3-way summit falter over final status issueA meeting held earlier this week between Israelis and Palestinians to prepare for Monday's trilateral summit faltered over whether the agenda should include discussions on a final status agreement.
The Olmert-Abbas-Rice meeting is set to take place in Jerusalem.
Olmert's bureau chief Yoram Turbowicz and his political advisor Shalom Turjeman met Monday with chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Abbas' chief of staff, Rafik al-Husseini, but were unable to resolve their differences.
The Palestinian representatives at the meeting reiterated their demand that the summit address permanent settlement issues, but the Israeli representatives rejected the topic as out of hand.
Rice is scheduled to meet with Abbas in Ramallah on Monday to try to reach an agreement on the agenda for the summit.
Abbas held a phone conversation Wednesday with a top U.S. government official who said that the U.S. would cooperate with the unity government only if the government accepts the conditions set forth by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators: recognizing Israel, abiding by prior agreements and renouncing violence.
The official reiterated prior statements conveyed to Erekat and PLO working committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo during their recent visit to Washington, the Abbas must bring about a change in Hamas' attitude. Haniyeh has already announced that the new government will not recognize Israel.
During their meeting in Amman earlier this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin also told Abbas that despite Russian statements supporting the Mecca agreement over a unity government, Moscow would only cooperate with the new government if it accepts the Quartet's demands.