U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters Wednesday after meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem that using a diplomatic track as part of efforts to halt the Iranian nuclear program can work, but it "has to have teeth."
She said that the calls by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the face of the map meant that it "can't be business as usual in Iran."
Regarding the decision by Israel to declare the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip as an "enemy entity", Rice said that the "U.S. will not abandon the innocent Palestinians in Gaza," but reiterated American concerns over the Hamas takeover of the coastal strip.
"We expect the Palestinians to understand that Israeli security is in their own interests," Livni said, adding that Palestinians must appreciate "that supporting Hamas won't help them."
Rice said earlier Wednesday "critical issues" would be tackled at a U.S.-led peace conference and called on Israelis and Palestinians to do more to bridge their differences.
Speaking en route to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories, Rice said she hoped her brief trip would build up momentum ahead of the conference.
Rice's 24-hour visit will also include a visit to the West Bank.
Israeli-Palestinian disagreements over what to expect from the talks have cast a shadow over the conference, called by U.S. President George W. Bush after the Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.
"We can't simply continue to say we want a two-state solution, we have got to start to move towards one," Rice told reporters before a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland.
"This international meeting is also going to be doing exactly that. This is not a matter just to declare that we all want to see a two-state solution," she added.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is expected to try to set a timetable with Rice for progress in advance of the regional conference scheduled to be held in Washington in November.
He will try to convince Rice that "joint declarations," including a mention of the core issues, are sufficient for the conference, and that a full "agreement of principles" is not needed.
Rice landed in Israel on Wednesday afternoon and went straight to the Foreign Ministry, to meet with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and hold a press conference.
Later, she will meet with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon and opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
She is also expected to meet with the U.S. security coordinator, Lieutenant General Keith Dayton, and hear from him about his progress in reforming Palestinian security agencies.
On Thursday morning she will meet President Shimon Peres, and then travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. She will leave Israel in the afternoon.
Olmert held his first meeting Tuesday with the negotiating team established to formulate the joint statement for the conference. Livni and Barak also attended, as did several other senior officials, including Foreign Ministry Director General Aharon Abramovitch, Amos Gilad from the Defense Ministry and Olmert's senior aides.
The participants coordinated the messages they will give Rice, with the emphasis being on the regional conference. Ramon did not participate in the meeting, but the Prime Minister's Office said that he was involved in the preparations.
"The main goal of the meeting with Rice will be coordinating expectations for the three sides," a senior official said. "We want to see what still has to be done before the conference in November and what can be achieved."
No date has been set yet for a meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
Barak will inform Rice that Israel plans to remove 24 barriers in the West Bank in order to ease travel among Palestinian cities and villages. If this does not lead to any security problems, Israel will also remove a manned checkpoint and expand security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority.
Barak will present the plan to the security cabinet Wednesday before meeting with Rice. Barak's main message to Rice will be that security comes before diplomacy. In other words, that the Palestinians will have show results in the security realm before any diplomatic progress can be made.
The security cabinet was also to discuss economic sanctions against the Gaza Strip, in response to the ongoing Qassam rocket fire directed at southern Israel.
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