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Originally published September 24, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 24, 2007 at 2:10 AM

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Rice wants key Arab states at peace talks

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that key Arab nations, including Syria, would be invited to President Bush's planned Mideast...

The Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that key Arab nations, including Syria, would be invited to President Bush's planned Mideast peace conference this fall and expressed hope they would attend.

Formal invitations haven't been issued yet, but Rice said it "would be natural" for Syria, Saudi Arabia and 10 other Arab League members looking at a broad peace deal with Israel to participate in the conference that is expected to be held in Washington in November.

But, she said their attendance would have to reflect acceptance of international efforts to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and support for the ultimate goal of a two-state solution and comprehensive regional peace agreement.

"We would hope that the invitations would include the members of the Arab follow-up committee," Rice told a news conference here after a meeting of the international diplomatic Quartet on the Middle East — the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia.

Aside from the Palestinians and Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, the committee members are Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.

Only two of the countries, Egypt and Jordan, have peace deals with Israel and some, most notably Syria, remain technically at war with the Jewish state.

Earlier this month, Israel is alleged to have launched an airstrike on what some reports have said was a North Korean nuclear facility in Syria.

The United States has long been concerned about Syrian development of weapons of mass destruction and has harshly criticized Syria for its consistent anti-Israel stance, support for Palestinian militants and its role in Lebanon where Damascus is accused of interference.

There was no immediate reaction from Syria.

And, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was noncommittal about attending the conference after seeing Rice at her hotel before the Quartet meeting.

Rice was in the Middle East last week and plans to return to the region soon to continue the planning for the conference.

Her visit coincided with Israel's decision to declare the Gaza Strip, which the radical Hamas movement seized in June, as "hostile territory."

That designation dealt a potential blow to efforts to bolster moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who now runs only the West Bank.

In addition to the Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab League committee, those to be invited to the U.S.-hosted conference will include the Quartet members and other major international players and donors, possibly including Japan, officials said.

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