US – Mideast:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has promised Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that Washington will deepen its involvement in efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rice was speaking today (Sunday)
at a joint news conference with Mr. Abbas after the two met in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Secretary Rice says the Bush administration has heard the call for deeper American engagement in the Middle East peace process and will respond accordingly.
Mr. Abbas says he told Rice that he opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state with only temporary borders, describing the idea as "not realistic".
Washington has proposed an independent Palestinian state with "provisional" borders as part of a "road map" peace plan. The plan proposed years ago has stalled due to the lack of implementation by Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian Politics: Palestinian officials say President Mahmoud Abbas plans to visit Damascus this week for a meeting with exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal aimed at ending weeks of internal Palestinian fighting.
Mashaal has been meeting with envoys of Mr. Abbas in the Syrian capital in recent days. Officials from both sides say progress has been made toward resolving the crisis and restarting talks on a Palestinian unity government.
Relations between Mr. Abbas and Mashaal have been strained for several months.
Last year, Mashaal accused President Abbas of collaborating with the United States and Israel to topple the Hamas-led Palestinian government. Mr. Abbas had refused to meet Mashaal until the Hamas leader apologized for his accusation.
Iraq – Syria: Iraq's president, Jalal Talabani, is to visit the Syrian capital, Damascus, today (Sunday) in the first such trip by an Iraqi leader in almost three decades.
Mr. Talabani is to meet Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for talks on security and trade. Baghdad and Damascus restored diplomatic ties in November after a 26-year break.
Saddam Hussein, when he was president of Iraq, severed relations with Syria in retaliation for its support of Tehran in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.
Iraqi officials say President Talabani will ask Mr. Assad to control Syria's border in order to stop insurgents crossing into Iraq. Washington accuses Syria of allowing militants to slip into Iraq to join the insurgency - a charge Damascus denies.
Iraq: Iran's Foreign Ministry says five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in northern Iraq are diplomats who were engaged in legal activity.
The U.S. military says investigators have learned that the detainees are tied to an Iranian Revolutionary Guard group (the Qods Force) that provides money and weapons to insurgents in Iraq.
An Iranian spokesman (Mohammad Ali Hosseini) said today (Sunday) the U.S. accusations are "incorrect" and aimed at creating a climate that justifies U.S. military actions. He demanded the U.S. release the five Iranians.
The Iranians were detained Thursday during a U.S. raid on a building in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil. Iraq's government says the building was an Iranian liaison office in the process of becoming a consulate.
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