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Rice in diplomatic push as leaders land

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni as part of last-ditch efforts to bridge differences with the Palestinians ahead of key West Asia peace talks.

world Updated: Nov 26, 2007 22:50 IST

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Sunday as part of last-ditch efforts to bridge differences with the Palestinians ahead of key West Asia peace talks.

As President George W Bush said he was “personally committed” to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, his top diplomat held one-on-one talks with Livni over lunch at her private residence in the US capital, a senior Israeli source told AFP.

They were seeking to hammer out differences over a document to go before the conference in Annapolis, Maryland, which seeks to kickstart the West Asia peace process virtually frozen for seven years.

White House National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said a joint document was not “critical” to the meeting’s success, since both sides have already committed themselves to negotiations after the meeting is over.

However, he said, such a document is harder to achieve now because one “offers the prospect of the parties potentially compromising their positions” ahead of negotiations.

“This is not a negotiating forum. This is an opportunity to showcase what is an opportunity to move into a negotiating phase between Palestinians and Israelis,” Hadley added.

Rice was later to host talks about the document over dinner with Livni and the chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qorei, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

The three would “talk about the document ... and what other issues are remaining” before it can be finalized,” McCormack said.

But he cautioned that he would “not be surprised” if they failed to bridge their gaps before the conference starts, adding “they might work on it Tuesday."

<b1>Bush is to host Tuesday’s meeting, the first major push for peace in West Asia in seven years, and has worked to persuade some 50 countries and organisations — including key Arab states — to attend.

“I remain personally committed to implementing my vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security,” Bush said in a statement on Sunday.

Ahead of the conference, Bush is due on Monday to meet separately with Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, who arrived here late Saturday.

In a coup for US diplomacy, a reluctant Saudi Arabia will sit at the same table with the Jewish state for the first time to discuss Middle East peacemaking. And Syria confirmed on Sunday it would participate in the meeting. Israel welcomed Syria’s decision, saying it could also open a possible peace track between the two West Asian neighbours.