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Rice says Palestinian state within reach

  • Story Highlights
  • Condoleezza Rice says U.S. summit can be "launching pad" to peace
  • Arab governments want process to succeed, Rice says
  • Palestinian leader says he's encouraged by Israeli leader's statements
  • Israeli prime minister: Palestinian leaders "want to live with us in peace"
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (CNN) -- A Palestinian state alongside Israel is within reach, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday after talks with the Palestinian president and Israeli prime minister.

Rice said a proposed summit in Annapolis, Maryland, later this year can be a "launching pad" toward a two-state solution.

"We appear to be on course to prepare seriously for continuous ongoing negotiations," said Rice, who appeared at a press briefing in the West Bank with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. She met Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who underscored the importance of the Annapolis summit in a speech.

"Annapolis will be the jumping-off point for continued serious and in-depth negotiations which will not avoid any issue or ignore any division which has clouded our relations with the Palestinian people for many years," Olmert said.

Rice said there are "very clear signs" Arab neighbors want the process to succeed. "I can really say without fear of contradiction that everybody's goal is the creation" of a Palestinian state, she said.

Rice's trip is her third visit to the Middle East since mid-September, indicative of the Bush administration's efforts to jump-start the dormant peace process before the president's term ends.

Abbas said he was "encouraged" by Olmert's statements Sunday and said he's seeking an accord that will lead to a solution on final status issues such as Jerusalem, settlements, water and refugees.

"We are serious to use this opportunity to reach this historical peace which would lead to the establishment of the Palestinian state and its capital East Jerusalem, that will live side by side with the state of Israel," said Abbas.

No date has been set for the Annapolis summit because both sides have yet to reach an agreement on the mutual vision they hope to present at the conference.

Olmert, who opposed the Oslo Accords in the early '90s, said an opportunity for peace talks exists "because it's time."

"Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, and Salaam Fayyad, its prime minister, publicly state -- without hesitation and despite the inherent difficulties of the complex relations within Palestinian society -- that they want to live with us in peace. This is an opportunity. It should be taken," Olmert said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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