March 27, 2008 - 12:05pm

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said that talks between chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are tackling "all the core issues without exception: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, borders, and security."

"We hope to achieve a settlement in 2008, there are many obstacles but we hope they will be removed. We are all pressing to reach a settlement by the target date," Abbas said.

He said settlement building in and around Jerusalem, Israel Defense Forces checkpoints and raids were blocking progress towards achieving a deal by the end of this year, a target date set by U.S. President George W. Bush at the Annapolis peace summit last November.

A senior Abbas aide said the Palestinian president will visit Washington in April to advance Israeli-Palestinian peace talks with Bush. U.S. officials said they were checking whether this was accurate.

Bush made his first presidential visit to Israel and the West Bank in January and is expected to make another trip in May, to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas.

At Annapolis in November last year, Bush launched Israeli-Palestinian peace talks on sensitive final status issues such as Jerusalem, the fate of refugees, settlements and borders.

Washington has appointed three U.S. Generals to help the two sides narrow the gaps, monitor implementation of a U.S.-sponsored road map for peace and help draft a security plan between Israel and the future Palestinian state.

Palestinian officials and Western diplomats said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are set to visit the region later this month for peace talks with Abbas and Olmert.

Rice is expected to push for the implementation of the road map which calls on Israel to halt settlement construction and on the Palestinians to rein in militants.

"Rice will meet Abbas in Amman on March 30 after the Arab summit in Damascus ends. She will then travel to Israel for talks with Olmert and return to Amman for further talks with President Abbas," a senior Abbas oficial said.

"President Abbas will also visit Moscow on April 20 just before his Washington trip to discuss holding an Annapolis follow-up conference in Moscow in mid-June to push for further progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks," the official said.

Olmert has expressed reluctance to attend the proposed Russian summit, but has not ruled it out.


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