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US says Olmert offer on Arab talks 'positive'
Washington hails prime minister's call to hold talks with Arab leaders on Saudi-drafted plan for Middle East peace. State Department spokesman says US Secretary of State Rice is planning to return to region soon in her ongoing bid to relaunch peace process
Washington on Monday hailed a call from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to hold talks with Arab leaders on a Saudi-drafted plan for Middle East peace as a positive move.

  

"The idea that the Israelis and Arab states could get together in some form, just to have initial discussions about where the situation stood and the ideas and proposals for how to move a process of reconciliation forward, is positive," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

 

Olmert on Sunday invited the heads of Arab states to hold talks with Israel over the Saudi-drafted plan.

 

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who took a four-day trip to see Israeli and Palestinian leaders last month, is planning to return soon in her ongoing bid to relaunch the peace process, McCormack said.

 

"I expect that she will be going back out to the region probably some time in May. We don't have a date set yet," he said.

 

A ministerial meeting between the quartet of main Middle East players - the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations - could also take place in May, he said.

 

Arab leaders, at their summit in Riyadh last week, revived a five-year-old plan that offers Israel normal relations if it withdraws from all land seized in the 1967 Six Day War, and allows for the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees.

 

Israel rejected the plan when it was first adopted in 2002, but has now said it could serve as a basis for talks provided there were changes on the refugee issue, something the Arab heads of state rejected in Riyadh.

 

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