Rice: Israel, Palestinian Government Agree to Regular Meetings

After three days of intensive Mideast diplomacy, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Tuesday that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed to begin meeting every two weeks.

"They achieved something, which is the very regularized meetings between the two of them, in which they will not just talk about their day-to-day issues, but also about a political horizon," Rice said, speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem.

Rice said she would occasionally participate in the meetings between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She said the two leaders will discuss a "political horizon," but added that the sides are "not yet at final status negotiations."

The new Palestinian government, a coalition between the Islamist Hamas group and the more moderate Fatah, was inaugurated last week. Rice said a "path to cooperation" with the new government exists, but that it must first renounce terrorism.

Rice spoke after three days of meetings with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders. She arrived in the region Sunday for her fourth visit in four months, in an attempt to push Israeli and Palestinian leaders closer to resuming peace talks.

Rice called on Arab states to take an active role in Mideast peacemaking, and said negotiations were made "more complex" by the presence in the government of Hamas, which has refused to meet three key international demands — to recognize Israel, renounce violence and commit to peace agreements. Peace efforts were "blocked" by Hamas' unwillingness to accept those international demands,Rice said.

Rice said her envoy, Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, would try to set benchmarks with Israelis and Palestinians, for halting rocket fire from Gaza on Israel and for improving movement of Palestinian travelers and cargo at Israeli-controlled crossings. She said those issues would be discussed first by Abbas and Olmert.

Rice said she is hoping to lay the groundwork for peace negotiations. Asked whether she expected a peace deal to be reached during Bush's term, she said "it's not inconceivable."