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Rice reassures Jewish leaders on talks

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Condoleezza Rice reassured leaders of U.S. Jewish groups that the United States would leave Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to the parties.

The U.S. secretary of state met Thursday evening with a group of 18 leaders to address their concerns after the re-launch earlier this week of Israeli-Palestinian talks under U.S. auspices. A joint declaration issued at the outset of the talks made the United States sole arbiter of progress in the talks. For some Jewish leaders, this raised the specter of U.S. pressure on Israel.

Rice reassured the organizational leaders that the United States would let the parties take the lead. Participants said she also made clear that now was the most opportune time for Israel to strike a deal because President Bush was as pro-Israel as any president Israel could ever hope for.

Participants at the meeting included leaders of religious streams, the pro-Israel lobby and Jewish umbrella groups.

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