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Rice 'Encouraged' by Mideast Talks

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has been encouraged by talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, despite tensions between the two sides as they prepare for an upcoming U.S.-sponsored peace conference.

Rice made the comments Thursday as she flew from Israel to London for talks with Jordan's King Abdullah to try to build Arab support for the Mideast conference. The secretary said she is not surprised there are tensions ahead of the conference, due to what she called "the serious issues involved."

But Rice said she is encouraged by what she heard during her four-day visit to the Middle East. She said the people involved in the launch of new formal peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are very serious.

A senior U.S. official announced today that National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley will visit the Middle East next week to follow up on Rice's meetings.

Rice also is expected to return to the region at the end of the month for a meeting of Iraq's neighbors in Istanbul.

During her visit this week, Rice met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Rice has been trying to get the two sides to narrow differences on a joint document to be presented at the peace conference.

Mr. Abbas warned Rice that time is running out for writing the joint document. The Palestinians want a detailed document while Israel is seeking a much more general statement.

Rice also discussed the proposed conference with Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP .