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Little opportunity remains to push Israel and the Palestine toward peace, Rice says

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says a "two-state solution" in the Middle East is in jeopardy and only a narrow window of opportunity remains to push Israel and the Palestinians toward peace.

In a House of Representatives hearing interrupted by anti-war protesters, Rice said Wednesday that a peace conference planned for Annapolis, Maryland, is needed to give hope to moderate Palestinian forces. She blamed Iran for fanning flames in the region, including what she called "troubling" new support for Hamas militants.

"Our concern is growing that without a serious political prospect for the Palestinians that gives to moderate leaders a horizon that they can show to their people that indeed there is a two-state solution that is possible, we will lose the window for a two-state solution," Rice said.

The Washington Post reported that the Bush administration planned to announce a package of unilateral sanctions against Iran on Thursday. The package will designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps as a proliferator of weapons of mass destruction and accuse the elite Quds Force of supporting terrorism, the newspaper said, citing unidentified senior administration officials.

Rice and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson were scheduled to make a joint announcement of the sanctions, the broadest measures imposed on Iran since the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, the Post said.

Rice's testimony Wednesday was punctuated by Iraq war protesters. As she entered the hearing room, one woman rushed toward her and waved her hands, painted blood red, in front of the secretary's face. The protester shouted that Rice was a "war criminal" and should be taken to The Hague, home of the international war crimes tribunal.

Rice was stoic and continued with her business as the protester was removed. Others were likewise escorted away at the behest of Democratic Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Despite the protesters' effort to focus on the war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran dominated the hearing. Lantos asked whether the Bush administration was doing enough to pressure Egypt to crack down on Hamas sympathizers and whether President George W. Bush was calling for the peace conference to salvage his political legacy.

Rice dismissed suggestions that the conference was a political ploy.

"There are probably easier foreign policy tasks to take on than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," she said. "The timing comes down to what it is we need to do to give moderate forces in the region a boost and to deal a blow to forces of extremism."

The conference has not been scheduled, but should occur by year's end, she said.

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