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Rice Meets with Palestinian President in West Bank

20 September 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is winding up a two-day peace mission to the Middle East. As Robert Berger reports from VOA's Jerusalem bureau, her discussions have focused on Palestinian statehood.

Secretary of State Rice traveled to the West Bank town of Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The talks focused on a document on Palestinian statehood to be presented at an international peace conference in the United States, possibly in November.

"We do not need a photo-opportunity," said Rice. "We need a meeting that will advance the cause of a Palestinian state. That is the only reason to have a meeting."

Rice said both sides are serious.

"I will work, I know that the President [Abbas] and [Israeli] Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert will work and that their teams will work; and their teams will work very aggressively, very urgently to lay the groundwork for a successful meeting," she said.

Mr. Abbas said he expects the conference to lead to serious negotiations with Israel.

He said the document on Palestinian statehood must tackle key issues, such as Jerusalem, refugees, and final borders.

But those issues have baffled negotiators for decades, and Israel believes it is impossible to reach a framework agreement in just two months. Therefore, it says it prefers a vague declaration of principles.

These differences have raised fears that the peace conference will not meet expectations. But Israeli President Shimon Peres, who met with Rice earlier in the day, believes a compromise formula can be achieved.

"I think the interest of all parties is not to let the proposed conference to fail, but make it into a real success," said Peres.

But the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, is out to play the spoiler. The group seized control of Gaza three months ago, after routing the forces of the rival Fatah faction, led by Mr. Abbas.

Hamas, which seeks Israel's destruction, said it would not be bound by any agreement between Mr. Abbas and the Jewish state.

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