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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 December, 2003, 06:55 GMT
Mid-East talks in US take shape
Former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin (left) and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo launch Geneva plan
The Geneva plan was launched at a gala ceremony
The authors of an unofficial Middle East peace plan have begun lobbying for support in Washington.

Two ex-ministers - one Israeli and one Palestinian - will meet US Secretary of State Colin Powell on Friday.

But a scheduled meeting with Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has reportedly been cancelled.

And a meeting with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was refused, which analysts say suggests the US is not keen to overtly back the plan.

Israel has rejected the so-called Geneva plan, while Palestinian leaders have voiced only lukewarm support.

The US administration is still committed to the official peace plan known as the roadmap.

The president's ear

The White House insists the roadmap remains the best path to peace, but its spokesman on Wednesday described Mr Powell's planned talks as "all part of the ongoing engagement and efforts in the Middle East".

Israeli withdrawal from almost all West Bank and Gaza
Shared sovereignty over Jerusalem
Palestinian renunciation of "right of return"

Mr Powell is expected to meet the chief authors of the alternative Geneva plan - former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin and former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo - in Washington.

Mr Powell has said he has a right to meet anyone with ideas on advancing peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Earlier reports that the Mr Beilin and Mr Abed Rabbo would meet US Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz have now been denied.

Mr Wolfowitz - a leading hawk within the administration - reportedly cited scheduling problems as the reason for cancelling.

The BBC's Adam Brooke in Washington says a meeting with Mr Wolfowitz would have taken the Geneva accord's message right to the conservative heart of Washington.

A meeting with Condoleezza Rice has been turned down.

Our correspondent says all this suggests the White House is less than enthusiastic about lending the Geneva accord any overt support.

West Bank violence

The Geneva plan, launched on Monday, calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state and the dismantling of most Jewish settlements, going beyond the roadmap.

Ultimately, the progress has to be made between the government of Israel and the new Palestinian cabinet, working together
Scott McCLellan
White House spokesman

It envisages shared sovereignty over Jerusalem and grants Israel the right to decide how many Palestinian refugees can return to Israel.

Speaking in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh on Wednesday, Mr Powell said the Geneva plan "presents ideas that I think deserve to be listened to".

But he also defended the roadmap, saying it was "the only real plan that is out there that has been adopted by the parties".

Informal talks began in Cairo on Tuesday between several Palestinian factions including Fatah, aimed at securing a new Palestinian ceasefire offer.

The official opening of the talks has been delayed until Thursday, when Islamic militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad plan to join in.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei, who took office last month, hopes to present a Palestinian truce offer to Israel, a key step in reviving the US-backed peace plan.

A previous Palestinian ceasefire collapsed in August after less than two months.

The BBC's Richard Forrest
"Palestinian officials have voiced only lukewarm support [for the unofficial peace plan]"

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