Rice says Mideast peace can be reached by year's end
(dpa) - Reaching a Middle East peace deal by the end of the year will be "difficult" but the Israelis and Palestinians are committed to the goal, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday.
Rice's comments came ahead of a meeting planned for Wednesday with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia in Washington.
Rice intends to continue to urge the two sides to reach an agreement, despite Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's statement on Monday that reaching a deal on the status of Jerusalem was unlikely before the end of the year.
"I am quite certain and I have been assured that the government of Prime Minister Olmert remains committed to the Annapolis vision of concluding an agreement by the end of the year," Rice said after meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. "There is no doubt that this is difficult work."
Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed at the peace conference hosted in November by President George W Bush in Annapolis, Maryland, to reach an agreement by year's end.
"I do not believe we can reach understandings this year which will include the subject of Jerusalem," Olmert told a Knesset committee on Monday, before adding other differences could be overcome.
The Palestinians have strongly objected to Israeli plans to expand settlement, especially in East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 war. The city's status remains a key point of contention in a peace agreement. Both sides claim Jerusalem as their capital.
The United States opposes more Israeli settlement and continues to remind Israel that expansions violate the 2002 internationally backed roadmap peace plan, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
"The fact that there are these continuing activities with respect to settlement activity is a problem. We've talked to the Israelis about that," McCormack said.
Rice will meet with the Israeli and Palestinian delegations and also hold a three-way gathering in an effort to broker progress. Vice President Dick Cheney and Bush national security adviser Stephen Hadley are also expected to participate.