Rice to return to West Asia in two weeks

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LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today she was encouraged by her talks with Israeli and Palestinian officials this week and a US official said she planned to return to the region in about two weeks.

The US official, who spoke on condition that he was not identified, said White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley planned to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next week to prepare for a US-hosted peace conference to be held later this year.

The upcoming trip by Rice would be her eighth to the region this year as the Bush administration has sought to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

Wrapping up four days of talks with Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab leaders, Rice was upbeat about her visit and played down public sniping between the two parties.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams have been formed to draft a joint document to be presented at the US-hosted meeting expected to take place in Annapolis, Maryland in November or December.

''The teams are serious, the people are serious, the issues are serious and so I am not surprised that there are some tensions,'' Rice told reporters as she flew to London where she will meet Jordan's King Abdallah.

''I am not surprised that there are some ups and downs. That's the character of this kind of endeavour but I was encouraged by what I heard,'' she added.

REUTERS PD RAI1835

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