WASHINGTON - US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said Monday there was no need to set a timetable for reaching a permanent accord between Israelis and Palestinians as a precondition for the Annapolis conference set for November.
Rice spoke to American reporters accompanying her on her trip to the Middle East. She hinted that the conference could be delayed until December if necessary.
"I am not certain that a timetable that says we have to complete X by Y time is where we want to go," Rice told reporters at the end of her day of meetings in Ramallah. We are interested in finding ways to create momentum by setting a start date for peace talks, but we still haven't reached any agreement, Washington's representative said.
Rice said the joint document that will serve as the basis for negotiations at the conference needs to be "serious and substantive and deal with core issues."
The document doesn't necessarily need to deal with specifics in order to be significant and serious, the secretary continued.
"Everybody understands that if the document deals with the creation of a Palestinian state, it's dealing with core issues," Rice said.
According to Rice, the US needs to allow the Israelis and Palestinians to be "realistic with each other about what they can achieve" before the international conference.
"This is the beginning of negotiations, not the end. We don't need to try to go too far. Let's see how much progress we can make with this next step," Rice said.
The US secretary of state said she would have liked to see the Israelis and Palestinians each implement their obligations under the first stage of the Road Map to Peace.
Under that agreement, the Palestinians were obligated to stop terrorism and the use of violence and Israel was to freeze settlement building activity and dismantle illegal outposts.