Rice wins Egyptian support for Mideast peace conference


CAIRO, Egypt — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday won tempered Egyptian support in her quest to nudge Israelis and Palestinians closer together ahead of a Mideast peace conference to be held in November or December.

Egypt, a key mediator between the Arabs and Israel, and other key Arab allies have expressed deep skepticism over the conference in past weeks, fearing it would be merely symbolic without making real progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A day earlier, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit spoke of postponing it.

But Aboul Gheit said his meeting with Rice on Tuesday “gives us a lot of trust and confidence” about American intentions for the conference, though he cautioned that preparations to hammer out the agenda could take more time.

Rice “has helped us to understand the American objective. She shed a great deal of light on the current American efforts,” he told reporters.

“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 depended on progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks on hammering out an agreement to be sealed at the gathering, expected to be held in Annapolis, Maryland. The Palestinians want the document to address core issues of the peace negotiations, while Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert wants a vaguer statement.

“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.