On Sunday the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, met in the central West Bank city of Ramallah with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. She said that she intends to pursue what she described as “parallel talks with Israel and the Palestinian Authority".Rice stated that Israel and the Palestinian Authority should move forward on forming a Palestinian independent state through a common agenda between the two parties.

In a press conference with Abbas in Ramallah, Rice said that the situation right now calls for parallel talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

 She added that the two parties need to set their destination on the path of solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

 This is the first meeting between Rice and Abbas since Hamas and Fateh formed the unity government last week.

The statements of Rice contradict the Israeli position which rejects talks with Abbas after he signed a government coalition deal with Hamas.

 She also said that US President George Bush believes that the creation of a Palestinian State and peace between Israel and the Palestinians are “critical issues on the international agenda”, Israeli news reported.

 Meanwhile, Abbas said after the meeting that the Palestinians “are working to ensure the safe release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit”, the Israeli report added.

Following her meeting with Abbas, Rice headed for dinner with the Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

 She is holding a separate meeting with Abbas and Olmert since the latter refuses to meet with Abbas because he signed a power sharing deal with Hamas.

 Rice stated that she hopes that Abbas and Olmert will agree that she hold separate but parallel meetings with them to discuss common issues that could lead later on to direct negotiations.

 Talking to reporters before she headed to her meeting with Olmert, Rice said that her approach is difficult, “but the issue here is not speed, it is about moving forward towards the establishment of a Palestinian state".