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Rice:  Meeting With Israeli, Palestinian Negotiators "Fruitful"

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held what she called a fruitful joint meeting with Palestinian and Israeli negotiators Wednesday. She said they will keep pushing on the goal of a Middle East peace accord by the end of the year despite the pending resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The announcement by Olmert of his planned resignation in September somewhat overshadowed the trilateral meeting here, but participants said the development need not derail the peace talks.

Without elaborating, Rice told reporters the two-hour closed door meeting was fruitful and that the parties remain committed to the goals of last November's Annapolis conference -namely a full agreement on a two-state solution to the conflict by year's end.

Neither Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni nor Palestinian chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia spoke after the meeting. But Palestinian delegation member Saeb Erekat said the two sides agreed to continue pushing for a comprehensive deal and will not settle for an interim or partial understanding.

"We will not opt for an option of partial agreements, shortcuts or anything short of a full agreement on all issues," said Saeb Erekat. "And let everybody understand that we are negotiating the issues of Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugee, security and prisoners and water. And we want to achieve an agreement on all issues, or no agreement."

Alluding to the unsuccessful Middle East summit convened at the end of former President Clinton's term, Erekat said a Camp David failure is not an option for the parties now, nor is a blame game.

Confirming an accelerated pace of talks, the Palestinian envoy said Rice will meet with the three parties again in the region August 20 and that more meetings were possible in September in Washington and on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

Aides to Rice say she has been trying to identify points of convergence between the two parties on key issues but is not actually presenting bridging proposals.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack downplayed the notion that the Bush administration plans any major change in tactics like convening a summit-level meeting. He said Rice would prefer to hand over a viable peace process to her successor rather than pushing too hard and causing a collapse of the dialogue:

"Whether that comes in '08 or '09 or some other time, we will see," said McCormack. "Our goal is to try to get to an agreement that will lead to a two-state solution by the end of this year. Maybe that is just in our nature as Americans that we're as optimistic and when we see limits, we try to push beyond them. But we're not going to try to push the limits of the process to the point where it breaks and you lose hope of a solution."

Both Rice and Palestinian spokesman Erekat said the pending resignation of Prime Minister Olmert in the face of a political corruption scandal is an internal Israeli matter.

Erekat said Palestinians want to make peace with all Israelis and not a particular party or individual. He said both Mr. Olmert and Livni, a Kadima party rival of the outgoing Prime Minister, have told the Palestinian team that Israel intends to stay the course.