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Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday that the goal of current talks with Palestinians is to reach as wide as possible an understanding in the time available ahead of an upcoming U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference set to take place before the end of the year.

Livni spoke after a meeting with the visiting U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who arrived in Israel on Sunday to help the two sides progress toward a joint agreement.

Livni heads the Israeli negotiating team working with Palestinian counterparts to prepare for the conference, which is scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Maryland in November or December. Following her meeting with Rice, Livni warned against excessive expectations from the talks, saying it could lead to frustration and violence.

"The idea is not to raise expectations that can lead to frustration and to violence, because we need to learn from past experience," she said. Violence surged after Israeli and Palestinian peace talks broke off in 2000.

Wrapping up four days of shuttle diplomacy, Rice said that while the sides are only beginning the process of negotiations, she is optimistic about success.

"We are showing the parties that there is a basis for moving forward," she said. "It is a stop in a process aimed at achieving a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel."

Rice also said that the current talks are the most serious the two sides have had about core issues in some time.

Bush: U.S. serious about forming Palestinian stateU.S. President George W. Bush said Wednesday that it was important for Rice to help Israelis and Palestinians make progress leading to the upcoming conference.

"We believe that now is the time to push ahead with a meeting at which the Israelis and Palestinians will lay out a vision of what a state could look like," Bush said at a White House news conference.

"And the reason why there needs to be a vision of what a state could look like is because the Palestinians that have been made promises all these years need to see there's a serious, focused effort to step up a state," he said.

"And that's important so that the people who want to reject extremism have something to be for," Bush said. "So this is a serious attempt. And I'm pleased with the progress."

The president added in the end it was up to the Israelis and Palestinians to reach common ground, and that the United States could only play the role of facilitator. "The United States can't impose peace," Bush said.

"In order for there to be a Palestinian state, it's going to require the Israelis and the Palestinians coming to an accord," Bush said.

The secretary of state came to the region on Sunday to try to bring Israel and the Palestinians closer to agreement on a document that would lay the foundations for the U.S.-sponsored international gathering.

Israel wants a broadbrush paper that does not deal in detail with the most divisive issues of its conflict with the Palestinians - borders and the future of Jerusalem and millions of Palestinian refugees.

While both sides have said they see the conference - which the United States initiated after Hamas Islamists took control of the Gaza Strip in June - as a launching point for statehood negotiations, Israel opposes setting any deadlines.

Abbas: Time running out to reach agreement before summitAfter a second round of talks with Rice on Wednesday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of hampering preparations for the upcoming conference and warned Rice that time is quickly running out for writing a joint peace document with Israel.

"It's impossible to go to the conference at any price," Abbas told reporters after a second round of talks with Rice. "We told Secretary Rice we don't have much time, that we must make use of every minute."

"Efforts should be extensive," he said. "We must not waste time." Referring to recent Israeli actions, including army raids and a decision to renew excavations near a key Jerusalem holy site, Abbas added: These actions ... are hindering the endeavor to reach a document with substance, to go to the conference."

During her press conference with Livni later Wednesday, Rice responded to Abbas' concerns by pledging that the meeting would be substantive. "I don't expect anybody to attend at any cost, including us," she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Rice toured Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, lit a candle and voiced hope religion could be a force for reconciliation in the Middle East.

While in Bethlehem, Rice also met with Palestinian civic leaders, business people and academics for a discussion at a Bethlehem hotel in which aides said she hoped to convey to ordinary Palestinians how serious Washington is about achieving peace and to hear their views.

Rice is scheduled to have dinner with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert later Wednesday.

Jordan: Postponing summit possible if more time needed to prepareJordan believes postponing the conference is plausible if more time is deemed necessary to adequately complete preparations between the Israelis and Palestinians, a senior official said Wednesday.

The remarks come on the eve of a planned meeting between Jordan's King Abdullah II and Rice in London on Thursday.

"We strongly support the idea of the conference, and we believe that the meeting should be convened," the official said.

"But we believe that if a delay would have a beneficial outcome to the meeting, or that more time is needed to prepare adequately for the conference, then be it," added the official, who is well-informed on Jordanian policy making.

The official said Jordan's position hinges on the desire of other Arabs involved, including the Palestinians, Egyptians, Saudi Arabians, as well as Israel. But he stressed that Jordan did not call for a delay yet.

France to host donors' conference for Palestinian territoriesFrance will host a donors' conference in December to raise funds to lay the foundations for creating a Palestinian state, the French Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and the country of Norway will lead the conference in Paris, the ministry said.

An exact date has not yet been set, but Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said it would fall two weeks after the upcoming Mideast peace conference.

"This is a moment of hope for this process, but there is a lot of work to do," said Blair, who is now a Mideast envoy for a coalition of four partners - the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and Russia.

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