Olmert holds talks in Egypt on peace conference

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SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt, Nov 20 (Reuters) Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, seeking wide Arab participation in next week's peace conference in the United States, held talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today.

Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with the Jewish state and, as the most populous Arab nation, it is influential in Arab councils.

Despite some reservations about the preparations, the Egyptian government has said it supports the peace conference in the Maryland town of Annapolis and wants it to succeed.

Diplomats say that how hard Egypt presses other Arab governments to attend depends on the progress in the final stages of preparatory talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israelis and Palestinians are having another meeting today, under US and Arab pressure to prepare a joint document before the peace conference, officials said.

The United States has not yet issued formal invitations to the meeting. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said yesterday he would probably head any Egyptian delegation.

''If we would decide to attend -- because we didn't yet receive an invitation and we didn't consider whatever we would be receiving -- then I think the current prevailing attitude is it will be on the level of the foreign minister,'' he said.

Mubarak has said that a successful peace conference requires prior agreements between the key parties and a firm timetable for the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel and the United States have been reluctant to set dates.

Arab foreign ministers will meet at the Arab League in Cairo on Friday to draw up a common position on the Annapolis meeting, possibly including their position on whether to take part.

In the absence of major Israeli concessions, Saudi Arabia is likely to disappoint Israel and the United States by sending a low-level delegation, if any delegation at all, diplomats say.

REUTERS PD RK1601

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