Tentative talks between Israel and Palestine aimed at restarting the stalled peace process could begin next month, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during meetings in Europe to rally support from British and German leaders.
A three-way meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would likely take place in the Middle East in the first half of February, but would not constitute formal negotiations, Rice said on Thursday.
Winding up a week-long tour of the Middle East and Europe, Rice briefed German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin and said US, German and other diplomats would convene a Middle East strategy session early next month in Washington.
Rice later held talks with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett. Blair has made the task of helping revival of peace talks a key goal of his final months in office. He toured the region in December.
Rice said her planned discussions with Olmert and Abbas would form a peace-making summit, ahead of later talks to tackle the toughest issues.
"We're not yet at the point where I think we can determine what we would do about formal negotiations, when and if they can occur," Rice said.
"It's really a time to try to get the parties into more of a confidence-building phase and we'll see what comes after that."
Blair has pledged Britain would provide assistance to Abbas. His advisers said he planned to discuss that task with Rice during talks at his Downing Street office.