Mideast Conference Nears, with Few Plans

[Washington Post] Glenn Kessler - A few days after Thanksgiving, President Bush and Secretary of State Rice plan to open a meeting in Annapolis to launch the first round of substantive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks during Bush's presidency. But no conference date has been set. No invitations have been issued. And no one really agrees on what the participants will actually talk about at the meeting, which is intended to relaunch Bush's stillborn "road map" plan to create a Palestinian state. Many diplomats involved in planning the meeting say it is simply intended to validate talks that are already proceeding between Olmert and Abbas over the contours of a Palestinian state. Rice hopes the two sides will agree to press ahead on the road map plan on two simultaneous tracks. Under this new approach, the Israelis and Palestinians would negotiate hard toward a permanent settlement of the conflict, which all sides hope will be seen as a major breakthrough, while at the same time taking practical steps to ease tensions on the ground. Rice is trying to entice as many Arab nations as possible - particularly Saudi Arabia - to attend at a senior level. But Saudi officials are driving a hard bargain. They initially insisted that they would not attend a conference that was not substantive and did not deal with the core issues of creating a Palestinian state. Olmert, however, has balked at agreeing to a joint statement with Abbas that might be viewed in Israel as making concessions ahead of actual hard bargaining.

2007-11-19 01:00:00

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