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Rice sees 'moment of opportunity' in Mideast talks, but cautions much work remains

JERUSALEM — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday there is a "moment of opportunity" for Mideast peace, but she cautioned that there is much work to do.

Wrapping up four days of shuttle diplomacy, Rice said that the proposed U.S.-hosted Mideast peace conference would be a "stop in a process," and appeared to be moving to lower expectations.

She spoke after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had criticized Israel earlier in the day, accusing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of hampering preparations for the peace conference.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the goal of current talks with Palestinians is to reach an understanding "as wide as possible in time available" ahead of an upcoming peace conference.

Livni, who spoke after a meeting with Rice, heads the Israeli negotiating team working with Palestinian counterparts to prepare for the conference.

Rice urged Arab countries to "rally" in support of the conference. Arab countries have been hesitant to commit to attending, saying they want guarantees of firm progress.

"We are showing the parties that there is a basis for moving forward," Rice said.

"It is a stop in a process" aimed at achieving a Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel, she added.