Rice meets with Olmert to narrow gaps between Israel, Palestinians

By Xinhua

Jerusalem : Visiting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem Wednesday evening, in an attempt to narrow the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians on a joint agreement expected to be submitted to the U.S.-backed peace conference this fall.

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The two leaders held the meeting at Olmert’s residence.

Olmert’s office declined to reveal details about the talks, saying that it was a private meeting.

Earlier on the day, Rice met with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The top U.S. diplomat said at a joint press conference after their meeting that she is optimistic about its success while the two sides are only at the beginning of the negotiations.

“We are showing the parties that there is a basis for moving forward,” she said, adding that the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace summit is just a stop in a process aimed at achieving a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel.

Wrapping up her four days of shuttle diplomacy, Rice also said that the current talks between Israel and the Palestinians are the most serious the two sides have had towards the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in about seven years.

For her part, Livni said that the goal of current talks with Palestinians is to reach as wide as possible an understanding in the time available ahead of the upcoming conference.

Livni, however, warned against excessive expectations of the talks, saying it could lead to frustration and violence.

The Israeli and the Palestinian leadership are preparing for the peace summit, which could possibly lead the negotiations towards final peace agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

The summit is expected to be held in November or December in Annapolis, Maryland.

Rice came to the region last Sunday to try to bring Israel and the Palestinians closer to agreement on a document that would lay the foundations for the international gathering.