<!--:es-->Rice sees series of summits with Israeli, Palestinian Leaders<!--:-->

Rice sees series of summits with Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hopes to follow up a joint February 19 summit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders with further three-way talks that would mark a significant new US involvement in efforts to create a Palestinian state, a senior US official said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert confirmed on Tuesday that the meeting with Rice and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas would take place February 19, marking only his second official encounter with the moderate Palestinian leader.

Rice’s spokesman said the meeting would take place “in the region” but said final details were still being worked out. She will meet separately with Olmert in Jerusalem and Abbas at his West Bank headquarters in Ramallah before the summit, Sean McCormack said.

“Our expectations are that this is an initial opportunity for these two leaders to start a discussion about those issues that would concern the framework of a possible Palestinian state,” McCormack said.

“It is their first opportunity to discuss these in more than six years,” he said, referring to a breakdown in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations since a Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation erupted in late 2000.

McCormack said Rice intended to pursue further joint meetings with Abbas and Olmert in what would be a significant break with President George W. Bush’s past practice of remaining aloof from the thorny Israeli-Palestinian dispute while he focussed on the war in Iraq.

“I would expect you would see more of the tripartite format as opposed to just the Israelis and Palestinians” meeting, McCormack said.

“We would hope that the Israelis and Palestinians would take advantage of this particular forum” to reach agreements on everything from the “most mundane” issues of security, economics and trade to the “most politically sensitive” questions of forming a Palestinian state, he said.