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US Downplays Expectations Ahead of 3-Way Mideast Talks


The U.S. State Department says it is still aiming to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement by the end of this year, but it has downplayed expectations of quick progress.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack made the comments Wednesday ahead of talks between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Washington.

Rice is due to hold a three-way meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia on advancing the peace process. She met Tuesday with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials in preparation for the meeting.

Tuesday, McCormack said with less than six months left in office, Rice's goal is to push hard for the two sides to settle on a peace plan, and for progress on their obligations with the so-called 'road map' for Middle East peace.

McCormack said, if necessary, she will hand off a viable peace process to the next U.S. administration.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas restarted peace talks last November with the goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2008.

In other news Wednesday, thousands of Palestinians gathered in the West Bank for the funeral of a Palestinian boy whom medics say was shot and killed by Israeli troops Tuesday. Palestinian officials say an autopsy shows the boy was hit with live fire during a protest against an extension of Israel's controversial West Bank security barrier.

Israel says it is investigating the incident.

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