Quartet hopeful of Middle East peace deal

The Middle East Quartet says a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians could be reached by the end of this year. The world’s most powerful diplomats from Russia, the U.S., the EU and the UN have been discussing the peace process at a meeting i

The group of mediators, known as the 'Quartet', pledged to continue to push both Israel and Palestinian to continue the search for peace, despite long-standing difficulties.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there's still hope for the process.

“I believe that they do have a chance to get an agreement by the end of the year,” Rice told reporters at a news conference in London.

The Middle East Quartet representative, Tony Blair, also believes there is a way out of the conflict.
“Everybody knows that the situation in Gaza is terrible. But as the Quartet statement makes clear, there is a different and better way through that, which is to stop the terror attacks, the rocket attacks and smuggling weapons, and for Israel to stop as well – also lifting of the restrictions and opening of the border,” said Blair.

The top diplomats also urged the Arab states to fulfill their political and financial commitments on providing aid to the Palestinians.

“The Quartet has encouraged the Arab States to fulfill both their political and financial roles in support of the Annapolis process,” said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The Quartet also called on Israel to allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza and freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank.

The mediators say the main goal of the negotiating process is to create a Palestinian state.

To watch an excerpt of the meeting, please follow the link

Talks on Iran nuclear programme

Meanwhile, another meeting has been taking place in London. The five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany have been discussing Iran's nuclear programme. The group of six, which includes Russia, has agreed to offer more incentives to Iran to encourage it to suspend part its uranium enrichment.

They haven't revealed the details of the new proposal, but said they hope for a swift response.

Iran says it's working on peaceful nuclear energy, but the United States and some of its allies accuse it of trying to develop atomic weapons.

Russia insists negotiations are the only way to resolve Iran's nuclear issue, whereas the U.S. believes in harsher methods.

Robert Lowe, the Manager of the Middle East Programme at Chatham House, a leading UK-based think-tank, says “it’s highly unlikely that there will be a significant breakthrough” any time soon since “the various parties remain too far apart”.

“There’s a bigger, more fundamental stand-off here between Iran and the U.S. It goes back decades. Both sides are very proud and have a sense of discontent and injustice with the other. Before there’s a major shift a major mindset change on both sides, it’s very hard to see any progress,” he said.

“Furthermore, with the campaigning in the U.S. presidential election coming up later this year, it’s very unlikely that there will be anything major developed until 2009, when we’ll have a new U.S. president who can actually maintain a coherent policy,” the analyst added.