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Israelis, Palestinians Prepare for Peace Talks

Israeli and Palestinian officials are meeting Sunday to prepare a summit between their respective prime ministers. Meanwhile, U.S. envoy to the Middle East William Burns is in Israel to push for implementation of the international road map to peace plan.

The top Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, met with Dov Weisglass, the chief of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office. Their talks are meant to clear the way for the first face-to-face talks between Mr. Sharon and his Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia.

Mr. Qureia said on Saturday that he would meet Mr. Sharon only if there were a prospect of their discussions producing concessions to the Palestinians.

He also threatened to pull out of any planned summit, unless Israel agreed to halt construction of a security barrier in the West Bank.

The Palestinian prime minister made his comments shortly before leaving for Jordan for his first meeting with the U.S. assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, William Burns.

Mr. Burns is now in Israel for talks with Mr. Sharon to push for progress on the stalled international road map to peace plan.

The plan, which is supported by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state by 2005. Mr. Burns said Saturday that it is still the policy of the U.S. administration to reach this goal.

His discussions in Israel also include meetings with Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Silvan Shalom and the defense minister, Shaul Mofaz.

During his talks, Mr. Burns is expected to assess whether it is opportune to recommend the return of U.S. Middle East envoy John Wolfe to the region.

Mr. Wolfe was specifically assigned the task of monitoring the implementation of the road map, but left the area after the collapse of the previous Palestinian government headed by then Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas.

Following Mr. Abbas's resignation, Mr. Qureia was appointed to the post of prime minister, and he took more than two months to build a new administration.