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US Welcomes Middle East Truce and Olmert Speech


The United States says the Gaza truce agreement and conciliatory speech by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday are promising signs that a regional peace dialogue might be resumed. Officials say U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders later this week on a side-trip from political talks in Jordan. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The developments on the Israel-Palestinian front are welcome news for the Bush administration and come as President Bush and Secretary Rice are preparing for key talks on Iraq and other regional issues in Jordan.

The President and Secretary of State are to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Amman Wednesday for a critical meeting on Iraq's worsening security situation.

Rice then holds broader talks with several counterparts from moderate Arab states, and officials here say she is likely to make a side-trip Thursday to Jerusalem to meet senior Israeli and Palestinian officials.

That trip would come amid a new Gaza cease-fire and an address Monday by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in which he said he is ready for peace talks and other conciliatory steps if a new Palestinian government renounces violence and gains the release of an Israeli soldier held by Gaza militants for several months.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack cautioned that much needed to be done before Israeli-Palestinian dialogue can be resumed but said the Olmert overture is welcome nonetheless:

"We do find it promising that he has talked about the political horizon that exists out there," said Sean McCormack. "And we ourselves have done what we can to help each of the parties think about and work through the various obstacles that are out there, that are in the way of resuming a political horizon so that you can resolve any differences that you have through dialogue and not through the use of violence."

The Bush administration has been told by a number of world leaders that action on the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking front could improve the environment for progress in Iraq, the most recent being Jordan's King Abdullah in a televised interview Sunday.

The Jordanian leader, who will host President Bush this week, also said the United States needs to be ready to talk to all parties in the area, including Syria and Iran, about a wide range of issues.

The bipartisan panel studying U.S. strategic options in Iraq is expected to make a similar recommendation when it reports to President Bush next month.

Under questioning here, Spokesman McCormack said there have all along been venues available for talking to Iran and Syria but that they have not been willing to address areas of U.S. concern such as Iran's nuclear program:

"Talking isn't a policy," he said. "You have to have a rational expectation that you can achieve something, and that you have the conditions set for making progress whenever you engage in that kind of discussion. We have laid out a proposal, for example, on the nuclear front, where we believe the conditions would be right to sit down with Iran in the context of the P-Five Plus One, if they stopped all their enrichment-related and reprocessing activity. So it's not matter of talking. There are possibilities to do that."

In another development, officials confirmed the resignation of Philip Zelikow, Counselor to Secretary Rice, who had served as a key adviser on Iraq and the Middle East.

Zelikow, who kept a low public profile but was one of Rice's most influential aides, said in a letter to the Secretary he was leaving for family and professional reasons and would re-join the faculty of the University of Virginia.

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