Unrealistic Expectations For US Led Mideast Peace Push

Wednesday, February 21st 2007, 5:41 am
By: News On 6

BERLIN (AP) _ Germany's foreign minister warned Wednesday against building unrealistic expectations for a U.S.-backed push toward peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Still, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cheered the effort led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who came to Europe to report on her meeting Monday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

``We have to show a great deal of realism,'' and not get ahead of what is still a tentative but hopeful process, Steinmeier said following a meeting with Rice.

He acknowledged, as Rice has done, that peace prospects are clouded by uncertainty over the political role of Palestinian Hamas militants.

Asked about Britain's decision to pull some 1,600 troops from Iraq, Rice said the move is consistent with the U.S. plan to turn over more control to Iraqi forces when possible.

``The British have done what is really the plan for the country as a whole, which is to transfer security responsibility to the Iraqis as the situation permits,'' Rice said at a press conference with Steinmeier.

``The coalition remains intact and, in fact, the British still have thousands of troops deployed in Iraq,'' she said.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said earlier in the day that Britain would withdraw around 1,600 troops from Iraq over the coming months and aims to cut its 7,100 troop levels to below 5,000 by late summer.

Rice and Abbas were holding separate meetings in Berlin on a new power-sharing deal between Hamas and the moderate, Western-backed Abbas.

The deal, although not final, falls far short of international demands that Hamas drop its signature anti-Israeli policies. Hamas has refused to bend despite a boycott of vital international aid.

Diplomats from the United States, Europe, Russia and the United Nations were conferring Wednesday on the changed circumstances since Abbas announced the agreement two weeks ago. The group, known collectively as the Quartet, are stewards of a mothballed 2003 peace plan that would eventually establish an independent Palestinian state.

The United States pointed to positive momentum from Monday's talks in Jerusalem, despite few obvious signs of progress. Israel balked at pursuing far-reaching peace proposals with Abbas, following his Fatah faction's power-sharing deal with Hamas, which refuses to recognize the Jewish state.

On Tuesday, Israel ruled out holding further Mideast peace talks with Abbas once he forms a coalition with Hamas militants, saying the new unity government must go along with international demands to recognize Israel's right to exist.

Rice and Abbas met separately in Amman on Tuesday with Jordan's King Abdullah II. Abbas said after the meeting that Monday's summit had been ``tense and difficult'' but ``it was not a failure, and it will be followed by other meetings.''

Abbas planned to fly to Germany, Britain and France on a campaign to convince European leaders _ whom the Palestinians hope are wavering on the economic boycott _ that the unity deal was a major victory that should be rewarded.

He said Israel may have ``misunderstood'' the coalition deal, which ``was made to protect the unity of the Palestinian people and its national interests,'' according to Jordan's official Petra news agency.

But Israel remained adamant.

``The agreements between Hamas and Abu Mazen disappoint all who supported separating the extremists from the moderates and creating an alternative government in the Palestinian Authority,'' Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Tuesday, referring to Abbas by his nickname.

Miri Eisin, Olmert's spokeswoman, ruled out holding any talks on a final peace deal with Abbas if he formed a new Cabinet that included Hamas.

Israel would continue to deal with Abbas, but only on such matters as improving Palestinians' living conditions and ending Palestinian attacks against Israel _ not on a final peace deal.