WASHINGTON (AP) _ Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said last summer she would not return to the Middle East just to ``tread water,'' plans to visit the region next week to try to nudge Israel and the Palestinians into new peace talks.

On a six-day trip that will be focused also on the Iraq crisis, Albright intends to meet separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, a senior U.S. official said today.

She may also visit Arab countries for consultations on U.S. preparations for a military attack on Iraq.

She will depart either Wednesday night or Thursday morning and stop first in Europe for talks on Iraq with the British, French and Russian foreign ministers. She plans to meet separately with them in London, Paris and Madrid respectively, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Albright talked over the weekend with Netanyahu, and he urged her to make a trip to Israel, diplomatic sources said.

MORE