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Egypt Gives Rice Cautious Support for Mideast Conference

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice earned cautious Egyptian support for a Middle East peace meeting that the Bush administration wants to hold in the U.S. city of Annapolis, Maryland. She met with the Egyptian president and other officials in Cairo, after two days of shuttling back and forth between Israel and the West Bank. Ms.Rice will hold a second round of separate talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday. VOA's Challiss McDonough reports from the Egyptian capital.

Rice said the Bush administration remains determined to hold a Middle East peace meeting before the end of the year.

Speaking in Cairo, the secretary of state said she made it clear to both the Israelis and the Palestinians that the United States expects them to meet their obligations under the Mideast peace plan known as the "road map."

"There is a lot to be done here, by all parties. And the one thing I am very certain [of] is that the two principals here, Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas, see this as a moment in which we might really be able to advance the two-state solution and lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on negotiations. That's where we're going to park our hopes and dreams about this. But it's also on that basis that we're going to put maximum effort into fulfilling our obligations," she said.

Rice held talks in Cairo with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the head of Egypt's intelligence service and the foreign minister.

Only a day earlier, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit talked about postponing the summit. Aboul Gheit said the meeting in Maryland should only go forward when both sides are ready to hold real negotiations. But he also said his meeting with Secretary Rice renewed his trust and confidence.

"We are encouraged, because she says she is determined, and the president of the United States is determined to have a breakthrough during the remaining year of the administration. Then we have to believe them. I cannot doubt them," he said.

The Egyptian foreign minister refused to elaborate on his earlier remarks in which he accused some unnamed elements in Israel of undermining U.S. efforts to produce a credible and binding agreement out of the meeting.

"We have listened to so much emanating from Israel over the last few days and we felt that there are certain quarters amongst the Israeli government who, they were not very positive on her effort. And because of this we cautioned such circles," he said.

The international community is hoping the Annapolis meeting will reinvigorate the peace process, which has been stalled for nearly seven years.

Arab states have expressed skepticism that the meeting will produce anything. A recent poll commissioned by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz found that some 56 percent of Jewish Israelis do not believe the meeting will help bring peace.

For all their agreement and optimism about the peace process, Rice and Aboul Gheit made it clear that they differ when it comes to Egyptian domestic issues. The secretary of state said she raised the issue of jailed opposition leader Ayman Nour, and also expressed concern about the recent jail sentences for Egyptian journalists. It is unclear, however, whether the United States would apply any pressure on Egypt regarding human rights.

Aboul Gheit said flatly that Egypt will listen to such criticism, but it will not make any difference. He said the government will not interfere with the courts.

The journalists who have been put on trial say the charges against them are politically motivated and aimed at silencing criticism of the government.