Rice Says New Mideast Talks Transcend Sequence of Road Map

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - Informal talks involving Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will offer a chance to “break through” logistical and security obligations under the first phase of the road map plan for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to include broader discussions on a future political settlement, Rice said January 16.

Speaking in a press roundtable interview in Kuwait, Rice said both the Israeli and Palestinian sides have commitments they need to fill under the first phase of the road map.  Rather than discuss issues such as checkpoints or the transfer of funds to the Palestinians, however, “they're going to be encouraged to talk more broadly about how they get to the future and establish the Palestinian state,” she said.

“It's wise to have informal discussions that are broader,” she said.

The so-called road map plan was released in April 2003 and specifies the steps for the Palestinians and Israelis to take to reach a settlement, and a timeline for doing so, under the auspices of the Quartet - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. (See text of document.)

What the parties “broke through,” she said, was the sense that they could not begin  seriously to discuss final status issues out of sequence without “somehow violat[ing] the precepts of the road map.”

But, “in some ways the sequence has already been broken,” due to the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, she said.

The three-way talks, which could occur as early as February, will be “a step in confidence building,” and Rice said she hopes they can “reinforce and lend momentum to the bilateral negotiations or talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis that have to deal with very difficult and concrete issues.” (See related article.)

The secretary added her belief that people in the Middle East “see their interests differently now than they did five years ago or 10 years ago,” and there is now a chance to make progress where there was not before.

“They see their interests less as continuing or having maximalist positions about this conflict and are more concerned about the kind of broad strategic picture,” she said.

In an interview with the newspaper Al Rai in Kuwait, Rice said President Bush and the people of the United States “would like nothing better than to see the establishment of a Palestinian state” by the end of the Bush administration.

She said there is a need to “now take the opening that is there.”

“The Palestinian people have waited an awful long time to have their own state.  They are people who are entrepreneurial.  They are people who are talented.  They are a society that has long believed in tolerance.  And they've suffered a long time and it would be a very good thing to have a state,” she said, pledging that the United States will “work hard” toward that outcome.

Transcripts of Rice’s press roundtable and her interview with Al Rai are available on the State Department Web site.