Peres sees progress in pre-conference talks

Israel and the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas are part way toward agreeing on a basis for reviving peace negotiations at an upcoming U.S.-sponsored conference, Shimon Peres said.

The Israeli president said Wednesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas, who have held accelerated meetings ahead of a regional conference on Palestinian statehood expected to take place in Washington this fall, are making progress.

“I think they have created trust between the two of them,” Peres, in Italy on his first visit abroad as Israel’s head of state, told reporters.

“The next target date is November, and the two leaders are trying to prepare until then a declaration of principles. Some of the principles are already agreed. Some are still controversial.”

Olmert and Abbas have played down expectations of a breakthrough, however.

Palestinian Authority officials say Abbas wants concrete diplomatic commitments from Olmert rather than general statements of intent. Israel, in turn, has voiced reluctance to make major concessions to a Palestinian Authority administration weakened by its split with Hamas, which now controls the Gaza Strip.

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