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Rice: 'Willing and Ready' to Resume Mideast Peace Effort


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she is "willing and ready" to return to the Middle East and try for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah.

Speaking to reporters in Malaysia Thursday, Rice said she would be "more than happy" to return to the Middle East at any time, if that would help achieve a sustainable cease-fire to end the fighting and bloodshed in Lebanon.

Rice is in Kuala Lumpur to attend the annual regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. She says her travel plans following the conference sessions on Friday have not yet been decided.

Between Monday and Wednesday she visited Beirut, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Rome, where senior international diplomats failed to agree on terms of a cease-fire. In contrast to calls for immediate action to end the fighting, the United States has stressed the need for a "sustainable" cease-fire that would ensure a durable truce between Israel and Hezbollah.

Israel's supporters say the current hostilities can end once Hezbollah pulls back from its entrenched positions near the Israeli border and stops firing rockets into Israeli towns.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, is also visiting Kuala Lumpur Thursday, but is not expected to meet with Secretary Rice. Officials say he will hold talks with his Malaysian counterpart, Syed Hamid Albar, about the Middle East crisis. Iran is one of Hezbollah's chief supporters.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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