Rice returns to Mideast amid no signs of progress

Traveling ahead of President George W. Bush's May 13-18 trip to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Rice will see officials on both sides -- including in three-way sessions -- to assess a peace negotiation with no visible sign of progress.

Rice returns to Mideast amid no signs of progress

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this weekend makes her fourth visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories since the November Annapolis peace conference with little to show for the U.S. effort.

Traveling ahead of President George W. Bush's May 13-18 trip to Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, Rice will see officials on both sides -- including in three-way sessions -- to assess a peace negotiation with no visible sign of progress.

U.S. officials and analysts played down expectations for her trip, which begins in London for meetings on Friday to discuss reviving the Palestinian economy, reining in Iran's nuclear program and supporting newly independent Kosovo.

She then travels to Jerusalem and the West Bank to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and their top aides on Saturday and Sunday.

"It is all behind the scenes stuff. She is not going to say much in public. She really is trying to get the two sides to deal with, and make progress on, the core political issues," said a senior U.S. official who asked not to be named.

Among other things, the official said Rice would gauge "how active she needs to be in presenting her own ideas to each side in order to move the process forward."

The Bush administration has so far been loathe to float its own proposals to help the two sides bridge their differences, preferring to leave them to work these out directly.

Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel now at the Brookings Institution think tank, was skeptical that the Bush administration was on the verge of offering its own ideas on how to craft a peace agreement to end the six-decade conflict.

"I see no indication of that. I think that their very clear attitude to this -- at least the president's view of it -- is that it's up to the parties to make the deal," Indyk said.

"Quartet meeting"

In London, Rice will attend a meeting of the quartet of Middle East-- the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States -- and a gathering of Palestinian donors.

She will also take part in a meeting of major powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- to discuss whether to improve a package of incentives offered to Iran in 2006 to suspend uranium enrichment.

One Western diplomat said he thought it was unlikely that the so-called P5+1 ministers would reach an agreement on sweetening the incentives offer, saying "I don't see any big breakthroughs here."

But another Western diplomat who asked not to be named said it depended on whether Russia and China -- which favor a much sweeter incentives package -- might be willing to accept a more modest improvement.

"This is really an exercise that is more, in our opinion, to stress again to the Iranian authorities and the Iranian public opinion, if possible, that there is this second part of the package that sometimes seems to have been forgotten," he said, referring to the incentives.

Reuters

Last Mod: 01 Mayıs 2008, 16:14
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