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Rice to Meet Palestinian President Thursday


The U.S. State Department has confirmed that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank Thursday to try to build momentum in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. U.S. officials are encouraged by this week's Gaza cease-fire and conciliatory speech by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice will be meeting Thursday at a Jordanian Dead Sea resort with foreign ministers from moderate Arab states and the G-8 industrialized countries.

Thus, she'll only have a few kilometers to travel for the session with Mr. Abbas, to be held in the West Bank town of Jericho near the Jordanian border.

That meeting comes against a background of hopeful news for the first time in months on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

That includes a largely effective cease-fire in Gaza, and an address by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday offering peace talks and concessions if a Palestinian government is formed that accepts Israel and renounces violence.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack says the developments augur well for restoring a long-stalled political dialogue between the parties:

"If the two sides can move beyond some of the obstacles that are in the way right now, and we all know what those are, there's a real prospect of a political horizon there - having the two sides sit down together and work through some of the real issues that lead to a two-state solution," McCormack says.

McCormack said because of scheduling issues, Rice would not necessarily hold a corresponding meeting Thursday with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert.

However, he said they spoke by telephone Monday after the Prime Minister's speech, in which he raised the prospect of confidence-building measures, among them the release of Palestinian prisoners and impounded tax money if the Palestinian side chose a path of peace.

Mr. Abbas and the militant Islamic movement Hamas have been negotiating, thus far unsuccessfully, about replacing the current Hamas-led government with a unity cabinet that could meet international terms for peace talks with Israel and open the way to lifting Western sanctions.

Spokesman McCormack reiterated the United States does not see Hamas as a partner for peace and is doing what it can to support Mr. Abbas, including an effort led by the U.S. security envoy for Gaza - Army Major General Keith Dayton - to train and equip Palestinian security forces controlled by the president.

He also said the United States supports a plan, which has tacit Israeli backing, to allow Mr. Abbas to bring 1,200 Jordanian-based Palestinian troops into Gaza to help monitor the cease-fire.

Secretary of State Rice, now in the Latvian capital Riga for a NATO summit, will accompany President Bush to Jordan for his meetings Wednesday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah.

King Abdullah has been among a number of Arab leaders in recent weeks to urge the Bush administration to press harder for progress on Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking as a key to curb extremism and help tackle other regional problems, including the conflict in Iraq.