U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she will attend a three-way summit next month with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to discuss the establishment of a Palestinian state. The secretary said it has been six yeas since the two sides held such discussions, which she described as "informal" and designed to lay the groundwork for movement on the peace process. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from Cairo.
After meeting in Luxor with Egyptian officials, including President Hosni Mubarak, the U.S. Secretary of State confirmed that she will meet with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders next month for talks aimed at re-energizing the Middle East peace process.
She said, "I explained that I will soon meet with Prime Minister Olmert and with President Abbas to have discussions about the broad issues on the horizon so that we can work on the road map, to try to accelerate the road map and to move to the establishment of a Palestinian state."
Rice said no date or location has been set for the meeting, but earlier a senior U.S. official said it would take place in the Middle East in three to four weeks. He said the participants would try to identify and understand the questions, opportunities and difficulties facing each side.
The secretary of state said it has been six years since the Israeli and Palestinian leadership talked about establishing a Palestinian state. She cautioned against expecting too much progress too quickly, but said she is "glad" that the two sides have agreed to sit down for informal talks.
"I am very clear that the one thing that you do not want to do is try to rush to formal negotiations before things are fully prepared, before people are fully prepared," said Rice. "But that doesn't mean that there can't be progress as we're moving along."
Her counterpart, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul-Gheit, said the sides need to build confidence before they can move on to reactivate the peace process.
He said, "Listen. There is an objective, the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories that have been occupied since 1967."
"In order to do this you have to negotiate. Prior to negotiating you have to talk, to resume discussions. They have been, as the secretary said, they have been not doing anything but fighting against each other for last six years," he added.
The Israeli-Palestinian issue was not the only topic on the table. The talks in Luxor also touched on Iraq, Lebanon, Iran and the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region.
Rice is calling her trip to the Middle East a "listening tour." It is aimed at bolstering Palestinian President Abbas and also at seeking regional support for the Bush administration's new Iraq policy.
But the trip comes at a particularly tense time in Washington's relations with its Arab allies, which have been strained over a variety of issues, including the execution of Saddam Hussein and U.S. military airstrikes in Somalia.
After leaving Egypt, Rice moved on to Saudi Arabia for talks with King Abdullah. Her next stop in the region will be Kuwait.