Rice wraps up Egypt visit with moderate support

Cairo, (Xinhua) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has wrapped up her short visit to Egypt after winning tempered support of the Arab country for an America-sponsored international conference on the Mideast peace process.

At a joint press conference with Rice, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit Tuesday promised his country’s support for the planned meeting, expected this autumn in Annapolis, Maryland.

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Abul Gheit said the message sent by Rice is encouraging, while stressing that Egypt is ready to help all sides’ efforts leading to a lasting peace in the region and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

“We are encouraged by Rice’s briefing,” said Abul Gheit, vowing to help all parties reach the goal to revive talks towards a final settlement.

Abul Gheit added that Rice’s visit helped the two sides understand the objective of the US-initiated peace meeting.

For her part, Rice stressed that there is a lot of work to do for the US-sponsored Mideast conference, which aims to revive the stalled Mideast peace process.

“(We have) a lot of work to do for the meeting and after the meeting,” said Rice.

Regarding the final date for the meeting, the top US diplomat said it has not been set yet. But she added that all parties concerned would be in a position soon to determine when the conference will take place, expecting the meeting to be held as scheduled this autumn.

Asked about the possibility of putting off the meeting if Israel and the Palestinians failed to reach a joint document ahead of the conference, Abul Gheit said it should be better to put off the meeting if the two sides need more time for a joint document as the basis for final-status talks.

“If we are short of time, let’s extend the time frame,” said the foreign minister, while stressing the importance of a timetable for talks between the Palestinians and Israel.

Abul Gheit said Egypt called for a timetable ranging from six to nine months or one year, adding “we cannot negotiate indefinitely” with an open-ended promise.

Arab League (AL) Secretary General Amr Moussa also stressed the importance of a time frame for the stalled Mideast peace process.

At a press conference following his meeting with Rice, Moussa said a time frame is very important and the US administration understands the Arab fear of an open-ended policy for the peace process.

Noting that the US is serious about the international peace conference, Moussa expressed his doubt on Israeli reaction.

The AL chief said that the reaction from the Israeli side is not reassuring and there is a question mark on its seriousness about the international peace conference.

Israel and the Palestinians still differ with each other as to what they should agree on before the conference.

The Palestinians and Arab states expect a detailed framework agreement that would address core issues including borders, Jerusalem and refugees. But Israel wants only a broad-brush principle for peace talks.

Rice’s visit to Egypt is part of a regional tour that has already taken her to Israel and the Palestinian territories where she met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to probe preparations for the Mideast peace conference.