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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 November 2007, 12:50 GMT
US confirms Mid-East peace talks
The future of Jerusalem is a key dividing issue
The US has confirmed it will host a conference on Middle East peace next week aimed at relaunching negotiations to create a Palestinian state.

Invitations have been issued to Israel, the Palestinians, the UN and key Arab states such as Saudi Arabia and Syria.

But Washington is still trying to persuade Arab states to send delegates.

The 27 November meeting, at a US naval academy in Annapolis, Maryland, will be the first fully-fledged talks on Middle East peace since 2000.

State department spokesman Sean McCormack said 49 countries and institutions had been invited.

Ahead of the conference, US President George W Bush is to hold bilateral discussions with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington on 26 November, it was announced.

The main talks will then be held in Annapolis the following day.

Arab reluctance

Earlier on Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak held a rare meeting to co-ordinate preparations for the Annapolis meeting.

After their meeting, Mr Olmert said he hoped a peace deal could be completed by the end of next year.

However, key Arab neighbours of Israel have been shy about committing to sending high-level representatives to the talks.

Arab foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo on Friday to co-ordinate their positions, although each government is to decide separately whether to send a delegation.

Egyptian officials say they are convinced the US is now committed to launching a serious peace process and its foreign minister is expected to attend.

Only Egypt and Jordan, of Israel's Arab neighbours, have recognised Israel.

Analysts say other Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, believe Israel has not offered enough assurances about its seriousness to reach peace and to make the necessary sacrifices.

Syria has said it will only join the conference if the issue of the Golan Heights, also occupied by Israel in 1967, is on the agenda.

Negotiations on a joint Israeli-Palestinian document to serve as a blueprint for future talks have made little progress, casting a cloud over the conference.

Israel and the Palestinians are divided over the fate of the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel since 1967, and the Palestinian refugee problem which dates back to the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Optimism from the US on next week's talks

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