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Rice Says Israelis, Palestinians Making Serious Effort to Bridge Differences


U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice says the time for a Palestinian state has come, and that Israelis and Palestinians are making a serious effort to bridge differences before a planned Mideast peace conference next month. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

Saying President Bush has made resolving the Israeli Palestinian conflict one of the highest priorities of his administration, Condoleezza Rice continued her efforts to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree on a common agenda - before a Mideast peace conference expected next month.

Speaking to reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, after talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Secretary of State Rice said the Bush administration wants the upcoming conference to lay the groundwork for an eventual Palestinian state.

"This is going to be a serious and substantive conference that will advance the cause of the establishment of a Palestinian state," she said.

Secretary Rice says no invitations have yet been issued for the conference. She says before that can happen, core issues must be addressed in bi-lateral talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators. She says the agenda of the conference should be clear.

"We know that requires the addressing of a number of issues - the core issues that must be resolved ultimately if there is to be a Palestinian state. We know that must involve looking to improve the lives of Palestinians economically, to improve the lives of Palestinians in terms of movement and access. We know too that it requires the support of regional states, the support of the international community," said Rice. "So there is an agenda."

For his part, President Abbas said he hopes the planned conference will result in peace talks with a firm deadline to end the 60-year-old conflict.

Mr. Abbas says in his talks with Secretary Rice he asked for U.S. help to stop the expansion of Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank, and a halt to the construction of Israel's 700-kilometer long separation barrier, which divides Israel from Palestinian areas in the West Bank.

Mr. Abbas says he believes Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will be able to reach agreement on a joint declaration of principles before the conference - something Israeli leaders have expressed skepticism about.

Following his talks with Secretary Rice on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he did not believe a statement of principles was even necessary. Palestinian negotiators say they will not attend the conference unless there is such a statement.

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