WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Monday criticized new Israeli settlements as "unhelpful" but insisted the shaky peace process carry on during a visit here by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Sitting next to Livni, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged both Israelis and Palestinians to honor their obligations under the 2003 roadmap for peace, which calls for a settlement freeze and an end to Palestinian violence.
Rice will raise the settlements with Livni, but she will focus on "let's keep this process moving forward" in order to prevent disputes from bogging it down, her spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters earlier.
In remarks to the media at the start of her talks with Livni, Rice referred vaguely to Israel's announcement at the weekend that it will build hundreds of new housing units in a settlement in the occupied West Bank.
"US policy on this is well known," Rice said when asked whether the announcement was "unhelpful" to the peace process, as McCormack had said.
"We have said that it's important to do everything possible to make the atmosphere for Annapolis as good as possible," Rice said.
Rice returned late last week from a trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories to make sure that an upsurge in violence does not derail new peace negotiations launched in Annapolis, Maryland last November.
Then, after Israel announced new settlements, Palestinian officials warned that the plans would shatter peacemaking efforts.
"And we consider -- and as I know the Israeli government does, as does the Palestinian leadership -- the fulfillment of the roadmap obligations as part of the Annapolis process," Rice said.
Rice, who was also scheduled to have dinner later with Livni, said that US General William Fraser would be "meeting later this week to review road map obligations for both sides."
McCormack said Rice discussed the settlements announcement with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak twice since Sunday.
"Now, the announcement that we saw from the Israeli government, is it helpful to the process? No, it's not helpful to the process," McCormack told reporters.
"But what we need to keep focused on -- it's essential that we keep focused on -- is moving forward the political process as well as moving forward that road map implementation process," he said.
The road map -- drafted in 2003 by the United States, Russia, the United Nations and the European Union -- calls for creating a Palestinian state living in peace with Israel.
"We would ask both sides not to engage in any kinds of activities that would prejudice the outcomes of negotiations," McCormack said.
"But they're going to talk about the whole range of issues concerning the political process as well as the road map process," he said.
"So, you know, although I spent a lot of time talking about the (settlement) question of the day, I expect that that's probably going to be a relatively brief portion of their conversation," he said.
"Her focus is on let's keep this process moving forward, because if you move the process forward and you're ultimately successful, you're not going to be in this situation where these kinds of questions arise and cause turbulence within both of the political systems," McCormack said.
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