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'Quartet' to Discuss Middle East Peace

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz met Secretary of State Colin Powell Monday as the Bush administration prepares to host, on Friday, a meeting of the international "quartet" on Middle East peace. The four parties are the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations.

The Bush administration has consulted with a succession of Arab, Palestinian and Israeli officials in advance of the "quartet" meeting, which is aimed at further refining a so-called "roadmap" for an Israeli-Palestinian peace by 2005.

Israel has pressed the United States not to release the plan until after its elections on January 28, and the Bush administration has discouraged speculation that the four-way meeting Friday will produce a final document.

In a talk with reporters after a 45-minute meeting with Secretary Powell, Mr. Mofaz declined specific comment on the "roadmap," saying he planned further discussion of it Tuesday with White House national security adviser Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

He said Israel's objective is to return to peace talks, but only if the Palestinians changed leaders and cracked down on terrorism. "From our perspective, the main goal is to bring back the Palestinians to the table of negotiations. And for bringing the Palestinians to the table of negotiations, there are two main preconditions. The first one is to change, or to elect, or to choose the Palestinian leadership according to President Bush's speech on June 24. And the second issue is that the Palestinians will fight effectively against the terror activity and will stop terror activity," says Mr. Mofaz. "And then I believe that we will be able to sit around the table of negotiations and to move forward to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The former Israeli military chief of staff said the meeting with Mr. Powell also covered international terrorism, and what Mr. Mofaz said he believed was the likelihood of a U.S.-led military conflict with Iraq. Asked if Israel would respond if attacked by Iraq as it was in the Gulf War a decade ago, Mr. Mofaz said Israel was not part of the equation in the crisis with Iraq. But he said if Israel were attacked, it has the right to defend itself.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov are to join Mr. Powell for Friday's quartet meeting. According to a draft published in October, their peace roadmap provides specific benchmarks toward a Middle East peace including the possible creation of a Palestinian state with provisional borders by the end of next year.