A diplomatic push to halt Iran's nuclear program could work, but "it has to have teeth," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.
Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Jerusalem with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Rice added that since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be wiped off the map, there could be no "business as usual" with Tehran.
Regarding the cabinet's decision to declare the Gaza Strip "an enemy entity," Rice stressed that Washington would not "abandon innocent Palestinians in Gaza." Nevertheless, she reiterated American concerns about Hamas control over the strip.
Livni told the reporters: "We expect the Palestinians to understand that Israeli security is in their own interest." She added that Palestinians must appreciate "that supporting Hamas won't help them."
Rice's 24-hour visit is intended to set a timetable for progress toward November's planned peace conference in Washington. Earlier yesterday, she said that "critical issues" would be tackled at the U.S.-sponsored conference and called on Israelis and Palestinians to do more to bridge their differences. Speaking en route to Jerusalem, Rice said she hoped her brief trip would build momentum ahead of the conference.
"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."
Rice, who met with several Israeli officials yesterday, will meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah today. Palestinian sources said that Abbas will ask her for clarifications about the planned peace conference. Among other things, he will ask exactly when it will be held and which states will attend.
Abbas intends to tell Rice that the PA would like to have Lebanon and Syria take part in the conference, despite Washington's objections to Syrian participation.
He will also tell her that the PA wants to conclude a framework agreement with Israel that would then be presented to the conference. It objects to a conference that would end merely with a joint Israeli-Palestinian statement.
In contrast, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met with Rice last night, was expected to try to convince her that "joint declarations," including a mention of the core issues, would suffice to conclude the conference, and that a full "agreement of principles" was not needed.
However, both sides may make do with something in between a framework agreement and a joint statement, Palestinian sources said.
Abbas is also expected to talk to Rice about the future of the peace process after the conference, and particularly how the U.S. and the Bush administration intend to continue negotiations between the parties.
The PA wants to set a timetable for carrying out the framework agreement after the November summit. However, Abbas is not expected to present Rice with an ultimatum: Despite pressures from senior Palestinian officials not to attend the conference without a real achievement in the form of a detailed agreement of principles with Israel, Abbas plans to attend regardless, Palestinian sources said.
Rice will ask Abbas what has been achieved so far in his talks with Olmert and how the U.S. could help to advance these talks, the sources said.
They added that Saudi Arabia is not eager to take part in the conference at this stage, but may attend as an observer, as it did at the Madrid Conference in 1991.
Abbas decided yesterday to appoint former PA prime minister Ahmed Qureia as head of the Palestinian negotiating team on the agreement of principles. Other members of the team will be Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO executive committee, and Saeb Erekat, previously the Palestinians' chief negotiator.
This morning, Rice will meet President Shimon Peres, then travel to Ramallah to meet with Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad. She will leave Israel in the afternoon.
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