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We spend a lot of time talking about war in the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is shuttling between the Israelis and Palestinians trying to nudge them into negotiating over peace. The Secretary of State wants an agreement on an agenda for a peace conference she's due to host next month. But she's downplaying expectations on this trip.
She also gave a warning to Israel not to undermine confidence in a meeting, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Rice didn't come with invitations for her much-awaited peace conference and tried quickly to tamp down expectations that there will be much movement in this current trip. Asked onboard her flight to Israeli yesterday whether she thinks a Palestinian state could emerge before the end of her term, she was circumspect.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: All I can do before I leave office is to give 100 percent till I leave office, and we'll see how far we can get.
KELEMEN: Now she's at the beginning, trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a document that, as she puts it, would point a way forward toward Palestinian statehood. The idea, then, is to get Arab states and other international players to gather around the table to endorse the joint statement and back up the parties.
Many analysts say to make her mark on Middle East diplomacy, Secretary Rice needs to get the Israelis and Palestinians to be fairly specific in spelling out their endgame.
One of the many former U.S. officials who have been writing letters of advice is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter's national security advisor. In a recent teleconference, he said the document must set out a clear outline for the most troubling issues - including security, borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: No right of return. That is a very difficult, painful pill for many Palestinians to swallow, and yet we recognize that it's an absolute necessity.
Secondly, some genuine sharing of Jerusalem - that's a difficult concession for many Israelis to make, yet we know there would be no peace and no peace recognized as legitimate by the Palestinians if there is no sharing.
KELEMEN: Asked whether she's aiming for that sort of specificity, Secretary Rice would only say that she thinks it's important that the Israelis and Palestinians address the core issues in some fashion and that the document is substantive.
Reaching such compromises will be challenging because both Israeli's prime minister and the Palestinian Authority president are so weak. Rice sounded out Prime Minister Olmert and other Israeli politicians in his coalition in separate meetings yesterday. She says right now both sides are just trying to build up confidence, and it might not be helpful for the U.S. to step in with its own ideas.
RICE: If we do get to actual negotiations as opposed to negotiations on just a joint document, there's going to have be a lot of confidence between the parties, and no third party can substitute for that confidence between them.
KELEMEN: There, too, she faced questions. Given news that Israel would renew a road plan that Palestinians view as a land grab in the West Bank, Rice said the Israelis have reassured her the project is not imminent and it's meant to ease Palestinian movements. Still, as she spoke to reporters on the plane she had this warning.
RICE: We have to be very careful, as we are trying to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state, by actions and statements that erode confidence in the parties' commitment to a two-state solution. And even if the intentions are good and even if the actual events on the ground are intended to produce a certain kind of outcome, you know, this is a very delicate time. It's just a time to be extremely careful.
KELEMEN: Secretary Rice is also using this trip to try to build up Arab support for the conference amid much skepticism. She's planning to stop in Egypt on Tuesday and on her way home will stop in London, where she'll meet with Jordan's King Abdullah.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Jerusalem.