U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the Israeli Palestinian peace process remains vibrant, even though both sides say they will likely miss their target of signing a peace deal by the end of the year. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Jerusalem, where Secretary Rice is on her eighth and possibly final visit as secretary of state.   

Secretary Rice traveled to the West Bank town of Ramallah, where she met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Her trip is part of the Bush administration's final efforts to keep the U.S. peace process on track during the transition of power in Washington.

The talks have made little tangible progress. Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. officials have acknowledged that they will probably not meet their goal of reaching a deal by the end of 2008.

However, Secretary Rice said she believes the process has not failed and she says the distance to peace has been narrowed. Rice told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the talks launched at the U.S. city of Annapolis a year ago have laid the foundations of a Palestinian state.

"President Bush's vision of an independent state of Palestine at peace with Israel, while it will not come in a single, dramatic moment, it will come, because the commitment of the Palestinian and the Israeli people to their peace will not waiver, and if there is methodical and sustained and sincere initiative to include an agreement, I know that you will,"  she said.

The talks remain stuck on key issues of the status of Jerusalem, refugees, and Jewish settlements. Rice on Friday repeated the Bush administration's calls for Israel to stop expanding settlements in the Palestinian territories, something she said is damaging the peace process.

The Palestinian leader thanked the Bush administration for brokering the round of talks.

He says he hopes the incoming Obama administration will begin immediately dealing with the Middle East issue, and take up matters from where they were left with the Bush administration, so that no time is wasted.

The change of U.S. administration and political turmoil in Israel mean it may be a few months before the process can move. Politics within the Palestinian authority are another complication.  President Abbas' term technically ends in January and his Fatah faction remains locked in a struggle with the militant Hamas group that controls Gaza.

The issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions came up Friday during Rice's talks with Israeli officials in Jerusalem. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the top U.S. diplomat that Israel is prepared to strike at Iran if it does not stop its nuclear activities.

He said Israel is convinced that Iran is continuing to develop nuclear weapons.  He said Israel believes Iran is deceiving the world through negotiations on supervision.  The defense minister said Israel is not taking any option off the table and urges others not to take any option off the table. And, he said, Israel means what it says.

Condoleezza Rice will be in the region until Sunday, also traveling to Jordan and Egypt for further consultations on the status of the peace talks - which in just over two months will be an issue for the new White House team to tackle.