US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority next week for a bout of shuttle diplomacy ahead of a peace conference this year, her spokesman said on Wednesday.
Rice's goal will be to try and bridge differences between both sides ahead of the conference, which is expected to take place after mid-November in Annapolis, Maryland.
"The secretary will be going out next week to the Middle East," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who did not provide exact dates for the trip.
"I would expect there is going to be a lot of going back and forth among the various parties," he added.
Israel voiced confidence on Wednesday it would reach agreement with the Palestinians on a joint document ahead of the conference.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held direct talks at Olmert's resident in Jerusalem on Wednesday and the two were later joined by teams drafting the document.
"The hard work has already begun but the really hard work is about to begin. We will see," said McCormack, when asked whether Rice's goal was to get the document completed during her trip next week.
The conference is part of a US-led effort to boost Abbas and his West Bank-based government and to isolate Hamas Islamists who seized control of the Gaza Strip in June.
Aside from the Israelis and the Palestinians, the United States would like key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia to attend.
Saudi Arabia has said it will only be there if core issues are discussed and if the discussions are serious.
"They (the Saudis) have said that thus far the progress has been encouraging, but there is a lot of very
Rice has said she plans to travel to the region frequently ahead of the conference. She was there last month for talks with both sides.