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Secretary of State Rice Starting New Middle East Mission

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is leaving Washington for another Middle East trip aimed at spurring progress in Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. She'll meet separately with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, along with leading Arab moderates. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. officials are cautioning in advance to expect no breakthroughs from the Rice mission, her third to the region so far this year.

But the Secretary is seeking at least incremental progress toward the two state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict that President Bush set forth as a U.S. policy goal in 2002.

Rice goes first to Aswan in southern Egypt to meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and with foreign ministers of the "quartet" of moderate Arab states, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.

Sunday she has separate meetings with Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah in the West Bank and with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Jerusalem.

Monday she goes to Amman to meet Jordan's King Abdullah and has another set of meetings with the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack says the Secretary will prod the two sides to act on problems of day-to-day concern such as checkpoint restrictions for Palestinians, but to focus also on the so-called "political horizon" - what a settlement of the regional conflict would entail.

He said Rice will urge her Arab colleagues to reaffirm the 2002 Arab League peace initiative that offered Israel normal relations with the Arab world if it returned to 1967 borders and allowed for return of Palestinian refugees.

"She wants to talk to the Arab Quartet as well as to President Mubarak and [Egyptian] Foreign Minister [Ahmed Aboul] Gheit about where that stands," said Mr. McCormack. "Certainly we would encourage the Arab states to reiterate and underline the fact that that Arab initiative still stands out there as a potential political horizon for the Israeli government, as they work on issues with the Palestinians."

Prime Minister Olmert and other Israeli officials have spoken favorably in recent weeks about the Arab League plan initiated by the then-Saudi Crown Prince and now King Abdullah.

But they say the plan would threaten Israel's existence as a Jewish state unless it allowed for a return of refugees only to the envisaged Palestinian state.

The Arab League begins a two-day summit meeting in Riyadh next Wednesday, a day after Rice completes her trip.

The Secretary will discuss with both Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and Mr. Abbas the implications of the new Palestinian unity government, which includes both Mr. Abbas' mainstream Fatah party and the militant Islamic movement Hamas, which won last year's Palestinian elections and is listed by the United States as a terrorist group.

Israel has said it will have no dealings with any participant in the new cabinet. But in a split with its ally, the Bush administration says it will talk with some non-Hamas members of the government, though Rice is not expected to have any such contacts on her trip.