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Abbas and Olmert meet for talks

Abbas and Olmert meet for talks
Date: 31.08.08
Source: BBC

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have met in Jerusalem for a further round of US-backed peace talks.

Mr Olmert wants to draw up a document of understanding that will serve as a framework agreement they can take to Washington next month, officials say.

However, the Palestinians have said they will not sign a partial deal.

Mr Olmert has promised to resign after his Kadima party chooses a new leader in a primary election on 17 September.

The prime minister announced his intention in July following months of pressure resulting from the opening of a police inquiry into money he received from a US-Israeli businessman. He denies any wrongdoing.

'Considerable gaps'

Mr Olmert's spokesman, Mark Regev, said his premature departure from office "would not interfere with the discussions" as the two leaders sat down for the latest of the meetings they have held every few weeks since the Annapolis peace conference last November.

Afterwards, Mr Regev told the Associated Press that "significant progress had been made", but admitted there remained "considerable gaps between the two sides".

He would not elaborate on the specific disagreements, but correspondents say they are likely to include the borders of a future Palestinian state, settlement construction in the West Bank, and the status of Jerusalem.

Before the meeting, Israeli officials said Mr Olmert wanted to discuss drawing up a "framework agreement" that could be presented to US President George W Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next month, before he left office.

They hoped such an agreement would show that progress had been made and indicate where the negotiations could be picked up by Mr Olmert's successor.

However, an aide to Mr Abbas, Yasser Abed Rabbo, insisted the Palestinian negotiating team would reject "any partial deal".

After the talks, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah: "The time factor is important but we either have an agreement on all issues or no agreement."

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, a favourite to succeed Mr Olmert, has cautioned against rushing the process, saying attempts to "bridge gaps prematurely" can lead to misunderstandings and clashes.

Ms Livni's comments were echoed by her US counterpart during a visit to the Middle East last week.

Nevertheless, Ms Rice said she was "very heartened" by the fact that the negotiations continued to be "serious" and "intensive".