U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to arrive today in Jerusalem - the terminus for her visit to the Middle East. Government sources in Jerusalem told Haaretz that her visit is the first step in the U.S.-led international meeting on peace in the region, planned for autumn.
According to sources in Jerusalem, Prime MInister Ehud Olmert will meet with Rice and tell her that he is interested in establishing a diplomatic breakthrough in the summit, in the form of a meeting between himself and a Saudi official.
The sources explained Olmert hopes this will demonstrate that his government is making diplomatic headway. However, it is doubtful whether the Saudis will even attend, as Bush stipulated that only countries that recognize Israel's legitimacy in the Middle East will be invited to participate.
Currently, Saudi Arabia does not have formal relations with Jerusalem.
Rice is scheduled to meet today with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. She will also meet with President Shimon Peres before she dines with Olmert.
In talks with Israeli officials, Rice is expected to inform her listeners on President George W. Bush's intentions for the summit, which he announced in a July 16 speech. In his address, Bush announced Rice would chair the meeting, which will be geared toward promoting peace between Israel and the Palestinians and attended by both parties and other regional players.
The summit's venue remains to be determined. The Bush administration proposed the meeting be held in the U.S. Egypt supports the proposal, and has suggested it take place at the United Nations building in New York.
Should the conference be held in Washington, D.C., however, it would probably be attended by President Bush, elevating its diplomatic significance.
Israeli officials have expressed support for holding the summit in the Middle East instead. Sources in the U.S. involved in regional negotiations said the meeting may take place as late as October or November.
This would give the concerned parties more time to work out the preferred venue.
Another issue which could surface during Rice's meetings in Jerusalem is the potentially problematic statement that Rice signed yesterday in Egypt. The statement indirectly calls on Israel to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, saying it was important to make the treaty universal for all countries.
According to foreign press reports, Israel possesses a formidable nuclear arsenal.
A senior U.S. official said the statement was compatible with U.S. policy as expressed on other occasions.
Speaking at a news conference in Egypt yesterday, Rice also commented on the situation in Iraq, where civil war and Iranian involvement pose a difficult challenge to the U.S.
"All parties need to throw their weight behind this effort for national reconciliation," Rice said, standing beside Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt. "It means an intensification of the efforts of those who have influence" in Iraq, she added.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday that U.S. officials want "to reassure all of the countries that the policies that the president pursues in Iraq have had, and will continue to have, regional stability and security as a very high priority."
The first day of Rice and Gates' visit was geared toward bolstering support for the fledgling Iraqi government and to step up pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
The conference yesterday day was attended by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, as well as Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
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