U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will arrive on Tuesday for a round of talks in Israel and the Palestinian Authority to prepare for the Middle East peace summit scheduled for the second half of November.
Rice is expected to meet separately with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who will report on the progress made in their talks over the past few weeks.
Officials in Jerusalem believe the U.S. administration wants to take the temperature ahead of the November conference. Rice, who will chair the event, seeks to get a feeling for the extent of Israeli and Palestinian flexibility in formulating the joint declaration before continuing her efforts to enlist the cooperation of senior Saudi and United Arab Emirates representatives in the summit. Washington has received reports of the Olmert-Abbas talks from aides and hangers-on; now it expects to receive first-hand reports.
The negotiating teams created by Olmert and Abbas in last week's meeting are to meet for the first time in several days, after the composition of the Palestinian team is vetted. The teams will work on the joint declaration, which is intended to serve as the basis for negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian state and solving the "core issues" - permanent borders, Jerusalem and the refugees. An Israeli source said this weekend that the parties will find it hard to reach agreement on the latter two issues, and may have to make do with general formulations on these issues while going into more detail on the character of the Palestinian state as well as, perhaps, its borders.
The Washington conference is expected to commence on or about November 15 and to last for two days. Current plans call for declarations of support only, with no deliberations or negotiations during the summit itself.
Olmert has been invited to speak at the General Assembly of United Jewish Communities, which will be in Nashville from November 11-13. He has not yet decided whether to swing by Tennessee on his way to Washington.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will leave for the UN General Assembly in New York next Saturday, after Yom Kippur. In preparation for her trip, Jerusalem and Washington will try to line up as many meetings as possible between her and Arab leaders, and to hold as many open meetings as possible in preparation for the November summit. Abbas will head the Palestinian delegation to the GA in New York, where he is expected meet with Bush and possibly with Livni as well.
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