US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday "critical issues" would be tackled at a US-led peace conference and called on Israelis and Palestinians to do more to bridge their differences.
Speaking en route to Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, Rice said she hoped her brief trip would build up momentum ahead of the conference.
"We can't simply continue to say we want a two-state solution, we have got to start to move towards one," Rice told reporters before a refueling stop in Shannon.
Meanwhile, London-based newspaper al-Hayat reported Wednesday that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas planned to ask Rice not to set a date for a summit before an agreement on the principles of a permanent peace deal has been reached.
"Abbas is not eager to hold the summit," a senior Palestinian official told the paper. "He has held meetings with Arab leaders, especially with the Saudi royal family, and they agreed that there was no need for a summit if it was unlikely to yield concrete political results," he added.
According to al-Hayat, "Abbas will accept a declaration of principles only if it includes substantial progress toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, including territorial exchange."
However, another London-based publication, al-Quds al-Arabi, reported real progress in negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, saying that Abbas and Olmert have already reached agreements on a number of core issues.
The paper listed the understanding allegedly reached between the two leaders, among them an Israeli withdrawal to the '67 borders, handing control over east Jerusalem - including the Temple Mount - to the Palestinians, territorial exchange, allowing 100,000 Palestinian refugees entry into the West Bank and enabling some refugees to return to Israel's territory.
Addressing critical issues
Rice, who will be in the Middle East for little more than 24 hours, wants to convince the Israelis and Palestinians to narrow their differences on the core issues that divide them - borders, Jerusalem, refugees and security.
Rice dismissed skepticism towards the conference, but declined to provide details over who would attend, when and where it would take place or what would make the agenda.
"I think everyone expects it to be serious and substantive and everybody expects it to address critical issues. We don't expect anything less," she said.
"The idea that somehow the president of the United States would call an international meeting so that we could all have a photo-op is very far-fetched," she added.
Rice's visit coincides with an apparent decline in tensions between Israel and Syria following an alleged IDF air strike against its neighbor this month.
Olmert said this week he was willing to enter peace talks with Syria with no preconditions and that he had a lot of respect for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Rice said the United States would not stand in the way of Syrian-Israeli peace talks but they could not be a substitute for negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
"As I have said many times, the Palestinians have waited long enough for their state and the Israelis have waited long enough for the security that will come from having a democratic neighbor," she said.