Egypt Backs U.S. Plan for Mideast Peace Talks

Egypt's foreign minister on Tuesday pledged support for a U.S.-sponsored Mideast peace conference, saying he was encouraged by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's focus on creating a Palestinian state.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Rice helped Egypt's leaders understand the American objective.

"We feel encouraged regarding what we heard from Secretary Rice and promised her that we would help, and we would help the parties as well in order to achieve the objective, which is launching the permanent status negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state on both the Palestinian territories," he said.

Rice and Aboul Gheit said the timing of the conference — tentatively set for late November or December in Annapolis, Md. — depended on the progress Israelis and Palestinians make in hammering out an agreement to be sealed at the gathering.

The Palestinians want the document to address core issues of the peace negotiations, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants a statement that is more vague.

"We will continue to work and help them to create this document and we will then be in a position I think fairly soon to talk about when this meeting ought to take place," Rice said.

Rice Heads Back to Jerusalem

Rice was heading later in the day back to Jerusalem for further talks with Olmert.

Aboul Gheit did maintain that the conference should be put off if a substantive deal is not reached.

"We have to go into the meeting ready to launch negotiations. If we need more time to achieve that objective, so be it. If we are short of time, let's extend the time frame," he said.

"It can be done if we have enough determination on the part of the [Bush] administration. The secretary says the United States is determined to have a breakthrough in the last year of the administration, so we have to believe them," Aboul Gheit said.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams met for a second time on Monday to try to determine details of the joint document.

"So far, no advances have been made, and we are not deluding ourselves," Palestinian negotiator Yasser Abed Rabbo said Tuesday.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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