Egypt says reassured on U S Mideast peace commitment

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CAIRO, Oct 16 (Reuters) Egypt said talks with U S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today restored its confidence in the Bush administration's commitment to promote peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

''We are encouraged because she (Rice) says she is determined, and the president of the United States is determined, to have a breakthrough during the remaining year of this administration,'' said Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

''We have to believe them. I cannot doubt them... What we heard gave us lots of confidence,'' added the minister, who said yesterday it might be necessary to postpone a Middle East peace conference expected by the end of the year.

He was speaking at a joint news conference with Rice after her talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who like other Arab leaders has cast doubt on whether the United States has done enough to lay the groundwork for the meeting.

The Palestinians and their Arab allies want the meeting to produce detailed agreement on long-term disputes such as borders, the status of Jerusalem, the fate of Palestinian refugees and Jewish settlements.

The Israelis have spoken of a declaration of principles which may not contain much detail.

Rice visited Egypt after two days in Israel and the Palestinian territories, where she tried to persuade Israel and Palestinian leaders to narrow their differences on a common document as the basis for the peace conference.

But analysts say that the United States has done far less preparatory work than it did for the Madrid peace conference in 1991 and that neither the Israeli nor Palestinian leaders have a strong domestic constituency for bold peace steps.

Rice noted that no date had been set for the meeting, expected to take place in Annapolis near Washington, but said that it would be in either November or December -- the last remaining months of autumn.

She said the conference proposal had already stimulated negotiating activity and generated ''a certain momentum'' toward drafting the joint document.

''We will continue to work and help them to create this document and we will then be in a position, I think fairly soon, to talk about when this meeting ought to take place,'' she added.

But Aboul Gheit said there must also be a target date for completing negotiations after the peace conference, avoiding the long delays which dogged talks after the Madrid meeting.

''That experience must not be be repeated. We must set for ourselves a timeframe... a target date -- six months, nine months, a year. But we cannot negotiate and carry on negotiating until the end of history,'' he added.

Reuters RSA RN2037

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