Thu, Nov 01, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Condoleezza Rice travels to Middle East for peace talks

GROUNDWORK The US Secretary of State has lobbied hard for top-level Arab involvement at a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, later this month


US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to the Middle East this week to lay the groundwork for key Israeli-Palestinian talks in the US later this month.

The chief US diplomat also has planned a sidevisit to Turkey to help tamp down tensions between Ankara and its neighbor Iraq.

Her trip there comes as the White House announced on Tuesday that US President George W. Bush will meet with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Washington next week.

Rice departs the US today for talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders ahead of a major international Middle East conference in Annapolis, Maryland, later this month.

The secretary, due to visit Jerusalem and Ramallah from Sunday to Tuesday, said last week that she felt it to be a promising moment for a breakthrough in the perpetually troubled Middle East.

"The timing comes down to what it is we need to do to give forces of moderation a boost and defeat the forces of extremism," she told US lawmakers at a congressional hearing last week.

The US is hoping that the conference forms the basis for next month's negotiations on the creation of a Palestinian state.

"She's going to take stock of where the two parties are ... about where they stand in their discussions, not only on preparations for the meeting, the document that they are preparing, but also where they are in terms of implementing elements of the road map," said State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack, referring to the long stalled international blueprint for Middle East peace.

McCormack added that Washington hopes to create a "concrete structure" for dialogue at regular intervals between the two sides.

He also expressed the wish for a "more regularized ... forum where Iraq's neighbors can get together to discuss the various issues that are a source of concern to not only the Iraqi government, but to Iraq's neighbors."

Rice has lobbied hard for top-level Arab involvement at the conference in Maryland, which is expected to be attended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Rice has plans in Ankara to meet with President Abdullah Gul and Erdogan, following a period of intensive diplomacy to persuade Turkey against launching a cross-border incursion against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Relations are strained between Turkey and its powerful ally the US after a wave of attacks by the separatist PKK rebels.

Turkey has threated to respond militarily.

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