No Progress at Three-way Talks

 JERUSALEM – A summit between Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, and Palestinian leaders in Jerusalem in a bid to re-start the Middle East peace process has ended without progress.
 
Rice met with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president in Jerusalem on Monday.
 
The secretary of state said both leaders had reaffirmed a commitment to peace and that she would return to the region soon.
 
Rice said: "All three of us affirmed our commitment to a two-state solution and agreed that a Palestinian state cannot be born of violence and terror."
 
In more than two hours of talks she said the two leaders "reiterated their acceptance of previous agreements and obligations", including the US-backed peace road map.
 
Rice was alone as she made the 90-second statement at a news conference. Speaking after the summit at a meeting with politicians from his Kadima Party, Olmert said he would maintain contact with Abbas, despite his dissatisfaction with the incoming Palestinian unity government.

Olmert said: "We have to maintain a channel of communications with the Palestinians, and the only possible conduit is the Palestinian president."
 
The Israeli prime minister said the contacts would focus on ways to improve the lives of Palestinians.
 
He said he had stressed "unequivocally" during the summit that the Palestinian government must accept international conditions for recognizing Israel.
 
Al Jazeera’s Barnaby Phillips, speaking from Jerusalem, said: "It is difficult to see anything tangible from the meeting."
 
Nour Odeh, Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent, said: "The view here is that Rice has backed the Israeli line and disregarded Palestinian aspirations."
 
It was the first meeting between Palestinian and Israeli leaders and a senior US official since June 2003.
 
Before the summit, Rice had spent the weekend shuttling between the two sides holding what she described as extensive, cordial and candid talks.
 
However, prospects for the meeting had appeared poor due to the uncertainty of the Palestinian political situation and the weakness of the Israeli leadership.
 
At a meeting in Mecca in Saudi Arabia earlier this month, Abbas and Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister from the Hamas party, agreed on a formula for a Palestinian unity government.
 
The Quartet of Middle East mediators, consisting of Russia, the European Union, the UN and the US, had demanded Palestine recognise Israel, renounce violence and accept previous peace accords in exchange for restoring foreign aid to the Palestinian territories.
 
Olmert said on Sunday that the new coalition does not meet those demands, so Israel would not deal with such a government and that George Bush, the US president, agreed with that.
 
US officials said Olmert did not speak for Washington and Rice has said she would draw no conclusions until the formation of the new Palestinian government was known.
 
After an inconclusive war last summer in Lebanon, Olmert’s own position is tenuous.
 
His approval rating has plummeted below 20 per cent, leaving it politically difficult for him to carry out far-reaching concessions that would be needed for a peace accord with the Palestinians.
 
(Agencies)

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