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Secretary of State Rice to Meet Lavrov, Other Quartet Participants


Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other participants in the Middle East Quartet are due to meet in Egypt's resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh Sunday, to discuss the progress in peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The group will hear a progress report from Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, and is expected to affirm support for continuing the negotiations despite upcoming government changes in Israel and the U.S. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Cairo.

The Middle East Quartet, which include United States, the U.N., the EU and Russia, are set to meet Sunday in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, amid a wait-and-see attitude following the recent U.S. presidential election and upcoming Israeli elections, early in 2009.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is on her 19th visit to the Middle East, and will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Serguei Lavrov, Saturday night, before a late dinner meeting with Quartet host, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

Rice is "concentrating on narrowing the distance to peace," between Israel and the Palestinians, while admitting frankly that she doesn't expect a major breakthrough in the waning weeks of the Bush administration.

Security in the Sinai Peninsula has been extremely tight in the leadup to the meeting, with Al-Arabiya TV reporting that Egyptian police seized a ton of TNT, Friday, although it was believed that the explosives were headed for the Gaza Strip.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, and the Quartet's special envoy Tony Blair will also participate in the weekend get-together.

The Sharm el-Sheikh gathering comes almost a year after a peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland reignited peace negotiations, which had been stalled for the first seven years of the Bush administration.

Secretary Rice has called the Annapolis conference "vital and vibrant" and urged that its work continue, despite the lack of progress over the thorny issues of Palestinian refugees, the ultimate status of Jerusalem, and the borders of a yet-to-be Palestinian state.

The goal of the Quartet has been to reach a peace deal that would set up an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Former Egyptian Foreign Minister, Esmet Abd al-Meguid says that Egypt has long worked to find a solution to the Palestinian problem and meetings such as this one are a step in the right direction, even if no immediate results are to be expected.

"I consider that this is an attempt to reach a solution to the problem, and by having a meeting like that happening in Sharm el-Sheikh, we have to help in achieving results," he said. "If there is no success, than this should take place later on. I think it is needed because any attempt to reach a solution to help in solving a problem is something we should support ... this is my belief."

Abd al-Meguid thinks that both the United States and Israel need to make a concerted effort to find a solution to the Palestinian problem, and that the Palestinians should not always be the ones that are pressured to make concessions:

"According to what we try in Egypt to find a solution to a problem, this should be encouraged, but also the other side, the Israelis must be helpful in that," he said. "I am not aware of what they are doing, but certainly there is a responsibility on the United States to support and to find a solution to the problem, this is my opinion according to what I was dealing with many years ago."

"I'm not criticizing. I'm trying to find a solution. this is something that should be helpful, it should be reaching a solution to a problem…the Palestinians have problems, I think, they are entitled to reach a solution for them, and not to put pressure on them," he added.

The Arab press is putting extremely low expectations on the Quartet meeting, with the daily Asharqalawsat running a caricature of two empty chairs, representing the United States and Israe,l and indicating that both countries will soon have new leaders.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, few are expecting any dramatic developments in the peace process, but none of the participants are overtly criticizing the talks, and their mere presence appears to be a step in the right direction.


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