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Rice Says There Is Opportunity For Peace in Mideast 


U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended four days of talks with Israelis and Palestinians late Wednesday, saying a Mideast peace conference will take place, but much work needs to be done in bilateral talks between Israelis and Palestinians before the meeting gets underway. VOA's Jim Teeple has details from our Jerusalem bureau.

Secretary Rice says the current situation offers a moment of opportunity for peace between Israelis and Palestinians -- but she cautioned against raising expectations for the peace conference which is scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Maryland next month.

"The November meeting is a stop in a process," she said. "There are discussions and negotiations going on now between Israelis and Palestinians to try and come to understandings about how they move forward toward the establishment of a Palestinian state."

Rice says she expects regional participation in the conference and will meet Thursday with Jordan's King Abdullah in London. Egyptian officials expressed cautious support for the conference following their talks with Secretary Rice. However, no other Arab states have so far said whether they will attend the meeting.

Rice says her shuttle diplomacy is the most serious effort yet made by the Bush administration to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but ultimately Israelis and Palestinians will have to settle their differences between themselves.

"We, the U.S. cannot substitute for bilateral discussions or agreements between the parties, but we will try to help when it becomes obvious that perhaps someone is stuck and our help is needed," said Secretary Rice.

After several days of intensive discussions Israelis and Palestinians have yet to agree on the agenda for the conference. Palestinians say they want a detailed statement of principles with a timetable for resolving issues like the status of Jerusalem, the dismantling of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the issue of refugees.

Israeli officials like Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni say Israel wants to reach agreement on a broad agenda, but she says Israel is reluctant to offer specific proposals at the current time, because that could lead to stalemate.

"I believe the right thing to do is to discuss it in a closed room with the Palestinian side," said Livni. "Basically the idea is not to raise expectations that can lead to frustration and violence. In the past the idea that we could solve the conflict in a few days led to frustration and violence."

Palestinians however are expressing frustration with how the talks have proceeded so far. Following his meeting with Secretary Rice on Wednesday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of hindering the effort to reach agreement on a statement of principles. Mr. Abbas warned that time was running out, saying Palestinians will not pay any price to attend the conference.

Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, President Bush said he believes now is the time for both Israelis and Palestinians to try and resolve their differences. The meeting he says offers Palestinians the chance for a future state.

"The Palestinians who have been made promises all these years need to see there is a serious focused effort to step up a state," he said. "And that is important for the people who reject extremism have something to be for."

President Bush also urged other Arab states to participate in the conference. Following the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June international efforts to support President Abbas with aid and diplomatic support were renewed and intensified.