Egypt faults US for inactivity on Mideast peace

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CAIRO, Sept 13 (Reuters) Egypt today said it had yet to see any major US effort to prepare for the West Asia peace conference which President George W Bush has proposed to convene in the United States later this year.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the preparations, mainly in the form of talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, were a beginning but not enough.

Egypt has been pressing Washington to prepare an agenda for the meeting and to start work on bridging the gap between the Israelis and Palestinians. It has said that an unsuccessful meeting would be a setback for the West Asia.

After talks with Kouchner in Cairo today, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said the United States had still not made known how it envisaged the meeting.

He added: ''Maybe the American administration and the secretary of state (Condoleezza Rice) will launch that effort in the few weeks to come. But for the time being we haven't seen yet that kind of a major activity.'' Egypt hopes the United States will come up with some ideas after Rice visits the West Asia this month and then holds consultations on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly session in New York, he added.

''We hope that the time from now to the meeting be made available to clarify many positions,'' he said.

The peace talks are expected to take place in the United States in November, leaving little time for preparatory work.

Before the last major West Asia peace conference, in Madrid in 1991, the US secretary of state visited the Middle East many times over months to line up the participants.

DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES Kouchner, who is on a West Asia tour, said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had done work toward the eventual aim of a Palestinian state.

Olmert and Abbas agreed on Monday to set up negotiating teams to find common ground ahead of the peace conference.

''It is not enough but it was a good beginning. Olmert and Abu Mazen (Abbas) were talking with the same words -- about the necessity of the success of this conference or meeting,'' the French minister said.

Olmert is seeking a broadbrush ''declaration of principles'' for the international gathering. Abbas wants an explicit ''framework'' agreement with a timeline for implementation.

But Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who saw Kouchner in Cairo today, quoted Abbas as saying he had not seen any draft declaration of principles. ''A declaration of principles would be a waste of time,'' Moussa added.

The peace meeting should not exclude any of the parties, Moussa added. The United States has not said whether it intends to invite Syria, which participated in the Madrid conference and has held many rounds of peace talks with Israel.

Arab diplomats say they suspect the United States sees the peace talks as a means to convey a false sense of momentum toward peace in the West Asia rather than as a serious attempt to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Saudi government, a US ally, said yesterday it doubted it would attend a meeting which is not comprehensive and does not solve what Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called the key issues.


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