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Rice Says Window for Israeli-Palestinian Peace is Narrowing

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in London for international meetings on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - in advance of a weekend visit to Jerusalem and talks with leaders of both sides. Rice cautions that the window for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict is narrowing. VOA's David Gollust reports from London.

Rice says she remains optimistic that the Israelis and Palestinians can achieve the framework peace agreement they committed themselves to at the Annapolis conference last November.

But she concedes that the ensuing talks between the parties have advanced at less than blinding speed, and that the opportunity to resolve the Middle East conflict with a Palestinian state alongside Israel is not open-ended.

In a talk with reporters en route to London, Rice reiterated an assertion she made to American Jewish leaders earlier this week that, due in part to growing radicalization in the region, the window of opportunity for a two-state settlement of the conflict is not open-ended.

"It is important to give reasonable people and moderate forces reason for hope. And that hope takes the form of articulating an agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state. And there's great urgency to that, because, as I said in the speech the other night, I do believe that the window for a two-state solution will not be forever open, and, I think, you could argue that it has gotten narrower and narrower over time," she said.

Rice insisted that bilateral talks led by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have yielded some progress, but that because of secrecy pledges, what she termed the churning under water is not readily apparent.

She reiterated the U.S. stand that Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank is unhelpful, and said the ultimate answer to that problem is the agreement the parties are striving for that defines the borders between Israel and a new Palestinian state.

Under questioning, Rice said the United States has no desire to stand in the way of reported Turkish-brokered peace contacts between Israel and Syria.

But she said any arrangement between them should not come at the expense of Lebanon, and that the United States will, under all circumstances, insist that Syria delineate its border with Lebanon and establish proper diplomatic relations with Beirut.

Rice's London meetings Friday include a ministerial session of the Middle East Quartet - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - and the Ad Hoc High Level Committee of major world powers and Arab states, which has been coordinating aid to the Palestinian Authority.

The latter grouping pledged more than $7 billion at a Paris donors conference last December, but Rice said only about half the amount has actually been delivered thus far, despite acute Palestinian needs.

A senior U.S. official traveling with Rice said the Palestinian Authority urgently needs as much as $600 million now to close a budget gap for 2008. He said Arab contributions to the Palestinians are woefully short.