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Rice in Israel, Expects No Breakthrough in Mideast Peace


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has arrived in the Middle East for a new peace mission. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, she is lowering expectations.

Secretary of State Rice will hold separate talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders during a four-day shuttle mission. They are trying to hammer out a document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international peace conference in the United States later this year. Both sides are reporting progress, but gaps remain wide on thorny issues like the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees and final borders.

As she flew into the region from Russia, Rice told reporters not to expect a breakthrough. She said she did not believe her visit would produce a final document on Palestinian statehood or reach a point that invitations could be issued to the peace conference.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert also lowered expectations at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

Mr. Olmert said for the first time that an outline for a peace agreement was not a prerequisite for holding the peace conference.

That is diametrically opposed to the Palestinian position, that the U.S. should not convene the conference until an agreement is reached. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

Erekat told Israel Radio that if there is no timetable and framework for the creation of a Palestinian state, the peace process could fail. He warned that the Israeli position could have very negative consequences.

Rice will try to narrow the gaps as she shuttles between Jerusalem and the West Bank. She will also visit Egypt, and cap the trip on Thursday in London, where she will meet with Jordan's King Abdullah.

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