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US to Invite Arab States to Middle East Peace Talks

The United States says it plans to invite several Arab states, including Syria, to an international conference intended to jumpstart Middle East peace talks. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters Sunday that countries which attend the meeting must be committed to seeing a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel. From U.N. headquarters in New York, VOA's Margaret Besheer has more.

Secretary Rice says no invitations have gone out yet for President Bush's proposed November conference. But she says she expects the invitations would include the members of the Arab League follow-up committee, which includes Syria. However, she cautioned that the meeting would be "serious and substantive."

"We hope those who come are really committed to helping the Israelis and the Palestinians find a way through. And that means renouncing violence, it means working for a peaceful solution, it means working on the basis of all the many documents that up to now have formed the framework for an eventual peace. And so coming to this meeting also brings with it certain responsibilities. And we hope that there will be full participation of those who want to see a Palestinian state established, as the United States and as the members of the Quartet most certainly want to see," she said.

Secretary Rice made the remark at a press conference of the members of the Middle East Quartet - the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and Russia - late Sunday at U.N. headquarters.

The parties came together to hear a report from their new Middle East envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr. Blair praised the renewed momentum toward solving the conflict and laid out his goals for the next few months. "Our aim, if you like, is to get to the end of this year, the end of the period of the next few months, with real hope back in political process, with a sense of what this Palestinian state could look like in terms of capability and governance and with things improving on ground. Those are, in one sense, quite ambitious objectives for the next few months but I think they are achievable if the right will and the right focus is there. And certainly it is important that it is," he said.

The peace process has seen numerous setbacks over the years, but Rice says it can strill succeed. "I am not surprised that people wonder if we are going to succeed. If this conflict had been easy to solve it would have been solved long ago. … I think there is a lot of goodwill, there is a lot of commitment and hopefully this time we will succeed," she said.

She added the Bush administration and the international community are committed to making progress.

Rice visited the region last week and says she plans to return in the coming weeks to lay more groundwork for the U.S.-sponsored peace conference. Many Arab states say they see no use for the talks unless they have clear and attainable goals, and it was not immediately clear whether they would agree to attend .

In a statement issued following the meeting, the Quartet called on Israel to maintain essential services to Gaza, after that government declared the Hamas-run Strip a "hostile territory." It also expressed concern over the continued closure of major crossing points given the daily impact on the Palestinian economy and daily life. And further noted its grave concern over the continued rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

Sunday's meeting sets the stage for separate talks Monday involving President Bush, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Tony Blair on the sidelines of the U.N.'s 62nd General Assembly.