LUXOR, Egypt – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday she will bring together the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming weeks for a summit dedicated to exploring ideas for an eventual Palestinian state.
The announcement came after Rice met with President Hosni Mubarak in this southern Egyptian town following a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Rice's talks were aimed at breathing new life into stalled Mideast efforts and bolstering the moderate Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, in his standoff with the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Rice said her talks during the visits dealt with laying the groundwork for "a political horizon that will lead to a Palestinian state."
"I will soon meet with (Israeli Prime Minister Ehud) Olmert and President Abbas to have discussions on the broad issues of that horizon, so we can work on the road map and try to accelerate the road map to move to a Palestinian state," she told reporters in Luxor.
She said the summit with Olmert and Abbas would take place "relatively soon" but did not set a date.
In Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told lawmakers of his Kadima party that he and the secretary of state had agreed on "a three-way meeting with Abbas" — also known as Abu Mazen — to be organized "in a short time."
"It was agreed upon by both of us that the road map will continue to form the basis of the process," Olmert said, referring to the stalled peace plan backed by the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations. The plan calls for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
"My meeting with Abu Mazen caused a momentum and this momentum has to continue," Olmert said, referring to his talks with President Mahmoud Abbas on Dec. 23. "This meeting is not a replacement, and will not be a replacement, for the bilateral negotiations between us and the Palestinians," Olmert added.
Saeb Erekat, an aide to Abbas, could not confirm whether Abbas would attend, but said "in principle" the Palestinians are prepared to take part.
Olmert and Abbas had held their first official meeting on Dec. 23. The Israeli leader promised a series of goodwill gestures to Abbas at that time, including the transfer of $100 million in frozen tax money and the easing of West Bank travel restrictions. But the Palestinians have complained about Israel not following through on its pledges.
Arab allies have been asking the Bush administration for some time to work harder for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, arguing that the lingering conflict undermines efforts to make progress on other Mideast problems, including in Iraq and Iran.
Arab officials said they now will propose a broad bargain to Rice, dubbed "Iraq for Land."
The deal reflects widespread Arab feeling that a lasting Middle East peace is impossible unless Israel agrees to hand over lands it occupied during the 1967 Mideast war to the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon.
On a related front Rice is asking Arab allies to help support the fragile government in Iraq, on whose success much of President Bush's new plan to turn the war around will depend.
Rice was meeting diplomats and leaders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia on Monday, a day after a similar session in Jordan.
Moderate Arab governments plan to tell Rice they will help Washington stabilize Iraq if the U.S. takes more active steps to revive a broad peace initiative between Israel and its neighbors, Arab officials and media said Sunday.
The scheduled meetings with Sunni Arab leaders fell on the same day that Saddam Hussein's half brother and the former head of Iraq's Revolutionary Court were hanged in Iraq. The Sunni former Iraqi dictator's chaotic execution two weeks ago incited Sunni anger and drew worldwide criticism.
The top U.S. diplomat is also meeting Tuesday with counterparts from eight Arab countries in Kuwait.
Jordanian King Abdullah II warned Rice that Iraqi political reconciliation would fail if Sunni Iraqis were not engaged in their country's decision-making.
"Any political process that doesn't ensure the participation of all segments of Iraqi society will fail and will lead to more violence," Abdullah told Rice, according to a statement by his press office.
"As a key component of the Iraqi social fabric, the Iraqi Sunni community must be included as partners in building Iraq's future," said the king, a leading U.S. ally in the Mideast.
Along with other U.S. allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Jordan is concerned about the growing Shiite Muslim influence, stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. The fear is that the hardline Tehran government will dominate the Mideast and give rise to more extremism, jeopardizing a Mideast settlement and threatening those nations.
Bush's new strategy to send thousands more troops to Iraq met with strong skepticism across the Mideast.
There were deep doubts that U.S. troops, or the Shiite-led Iraqi government, would tackle what many in the Sunni-dominated Arab world see as the chief threat to Iraq: Shiite militias, blamed for fueling the cycle of sectarian slayings.
Mustafa al-Ani, a military analyst with the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said the American military has to take down the Shiite militias — particularly the most feared of them, the Mahdi Army, loyal to cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, an ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Otherwise, the U.S. will lose any support among Iraq's Sunnis, he said.
Al-Maliki has resisted U.S. pressure in the past to move against al-Sadr's militia, but last week the prime minister pledged to crack down on the Mahdi Army.