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US Secretary of State Heading Back to Middle East


U.S. President George Bush is sending Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East Friday for talks in Egypt, Israel and Jordan aimed at resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

President Bush says he is sending Secretary Rice back to the Middle East because securing peace there is a U.S. priority.

"She's going to continue our efforts to involve all parties -- the Palestinians, the Israelis, Arabs -- to work for a solution that will lead to peace, and that is a Palestinian state, living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security," said President Bush.

Rice is scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, as well as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah.

President Bush says he has been in contact with regional allies to remind them of what he says is his strong commitment to the two-state solution.

"This will be hard work. It's not easy to get all parties headed in the right direction," he said. "But it's necessary work for this country, and it's necessary for our secretary of state, with my strong approval, to be moving the process forward."

Rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah agreed on a unity government earlier this month in Saudi-sponsored talks.

The Bush administration says it will have contacts with non-Hamas members of the new government. But the administration will not deal with Hamas, which it lists as a terrorist group, and which refuses to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past peace accords.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says his country is willing to make what he calls painful concessions to advance the long-stalled peace process.

He says a Saudi initiative calling for Israel to return all territory occupied in 1967 in exchange for normal relations with Arab neighbors could be a convenient basis for future talks.