Rice defines Annapolis success as launching talks

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WASHINGTON, Nov 21 (Reuters) US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today she believed the Annapolis Middle East conference would be a success if it launches Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to create a Palestinian state.

The meeting, President George W. Bush's most intense effort to resolve the six-decade-old conflict, faces many obstacles, including the political weakness of both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

''It's a very big step forward to launch these negotiations,'' Rice told reporters a day after the United States formally announced it was inviting about 40 countries to the US Naval Academy in Maryland yesterday for a one-day meeting that it hopes will kick off formal peace talks.

''The success of this meeting is really in the launch of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the establishment of a Palestinian state,'' she said. ''I do not think that several months ago, maybe even several weeks ago, it would have been predictable that we would be at this point.'' It is unclear how far the conference will go in tackling the core issues -- borders, security, settlements, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees -- that have defeated previous efforts to end the conflict.

REUTERS RSA KN2310

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