JERUSALEM - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to the Middle East for what was supposed to be the ambitious beginning of an American campaign to resuscitate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have stagnated for six years.
In the end, however, she had to settle for a modest achievement: that Monday's talks were held at all.
For the first time in her tenure, Rice sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The three agreed to little more than to keep talking.
But that, Rice argued, was enough to declare success.
The meeting took place in the shadow of an unfolding plan by Abbas and Fatah, his moderate party, to form a new Palestinian coalition government with leaders of the rival Hamas movement.
That agreement, signed two weeks ago in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, surprised American officials and jeopardized Rice's new initiative. Israeli officials initially suggested that their government might curtail ties to Abbas because he was aligning with Hamas.
Rice said that the United States decided that its best choice was to continue to support Abbas and press ahead with the meeting, which had been scheduled before he agreed to align with the militant Islamist movement.
"I frankly don't know how long it would have been before they would have talked with each other were it not for the coincidence of this meeting having been scheduled," Rice said after Monday's two-hour talks.