Abbas Refuses to Talk of Progress with Israel

CAIRO – Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday he would withhold any assessment of the peace process with Israel until the two sides start putting a draft accord on paper.

"I can’t speak of progress as long as we have not started to edit a draft. When we start drafting we will feel we have started to make progress," he told reporters in Cairo after meeting Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak.

So far, Abbas said, the two sides aiming for a peace deal by the end of 2008 as targeted by Washington have only had "exchanges of ideas, a dialogue… in depth."

The Palestinian leader stressed that the contacts since the peace process was revived at a U.S.-hosted conference in November had homed in on core issues and final-status points of dispute.

"We are now in a process of negotiations in which we are discussing key issues. We are tackling questions linked to the final status," Abbas said.

"These are serious discussions… between all the parties concerned — Palestinians, Israel and also Americans — on the fact we must use 2008 to seal an accord with Israel on the final status" of the Palestinian territories.

But "for now, I cannot say whether we will succeed by the end of 2008," in time for the end of U.S. President George W. Bush’s term in office.

Abbas, who held talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the Jordanian capital on Sunday and Monday, has said he will hold a face-to-face meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert next Monday.

The last meeting between Abbas and Olmert was in Jerusalem on February 19, after which the Palestinian president suspended all talks in protest at a deadly Israeli blitz on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II also headed for Cairo on Wednesday to meet Mubarak, but it was not clear if a three-way encounter would take place.

(Agency France Press)

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