Abbas, Olmert to meet again to try to bridge gaps

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JERUSALEM, Oct 25 (Reuters) Israeli and Palestinian leaders will meet tomorrow in another attempt to bridge gaps in talks over a joint document to be presented at a US-run conference on Palestinian statehood.

Announcing he would lunch with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert again cautioned against expecting any peace breakthrough at the gathering slated for late November or early December in Annapolis, Maryland.

''We don't want to mislead anyone that Annapolis is the event that will conclude peace between us and the Palestinians,'' Olmert said in a speech on Thursday to U.S. Jewish fundraisers for Israel.

''We are not there yet. Annapolis is not made to be the event for the declaration of peace,'' he said, echoing remarks he has made over the past several weeks in the face of opposition from right-wingers in his governing coalition to far-reaching moves.

Olmert has said he wants the gathering -- which he insists should not be called a conference because no peace agreements are to be concluded -- to provide an international umbrella for reviving bilateral talks with the Palestinians on statehood.

Olmert and Abbas have told Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams to draft, ahead of the conference, a document that addresses so-called final status issues, including borders and the fate of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees.

The paper is meant to serve as a basis for the statehood talks that senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has said should be concluded by August, before the US presidential race heats up.

''SERIOUS MEETING'' US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who met Olmert and Abbas last week, plans to return to the region early next month to try to help them narrow differences over the joint paper.

No final date has been set for the conference, which Washington hopes key Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, will attend.

''I believe that we have some work to do still. We haven't issued any invitations, and so I don't expect that any will be accepted until we've actually issued them,'' Rice told the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, when asked if Saudi Arabia would attend.

Saudia Arabia has said it would go to the conference only if substantive issues were discussed.

Israeli and Palestinian teams negotiating the joint document met yesterday evening late.

''There are no problems between the negotiating sides,'' Erekat told Reuters. ''We had a very serious meeting last night and we're discussing the issues that will be included in the document.'' Erekat said tomorrow's talks between Abbas and Olmert would take place at the Israeli leader's residence in Jerusalem.

In his speech, Olmert said he would hold a separate meeting tomorrow with Stephen Hadley, the White House national security adviser. Palestinian officials said Abbas also would see Hadley tomorrow.


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