US seeks Saudis for key Annapolis role
MORE THAN 40 countries — including Saudi Arabia and Syria — were formally invited this week to next Tuesday’s Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland.
The US administration, which initially wanted to make the meeting a ground-breaking event dealing with core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, had to settle for a much less ambitious plan. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded that Israel was not willing to discuss final borders, the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees. At the same time, Arab countries did not supply the support needed in order to make Israel take steps regarding the “final status” issues.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that the Annapolis conference would “serve as a launching point” for negotiations.
A formal dinner for all those invited on Monday night will be followed by an intense day of talks, with follow-up meetings on Wednesday.
Other American officials made it clear that the purpose was to boost talks based on the 2003 roadmap peace plan, specifically on getting both sides to adhere to the plan’s first phase: curbing Palestinian violence and stopping Israeli settlement activity.
While giving up the notion of tackling the most difficult issues, the administration will still try to engage moderate Arab countries in the peace process. The main goal of the US is to have Saudi Arabia send a senior official, preferably the foreign minister, to Annapolis. Such a move, Americans believe, could significantly help both the Palestinian and Israeli leadership in their respective domestic arenas.
During months of negotiations the Saudis have told Ms Rice that they expect Israel to do more towards a “final status” agreement before agreeing to send senior officials to attend the conference.
After long deliberation, Washington invited Syria, but officials made it clear that this did not reflect any willingness to compromise on issues relating to Syria’s support for terror.
Other Arab states will announce whether they will attend or not after an Arab League meeting this week.
Summit hopes: Mahmoud Abbas ( left) Condoleezza Rice and Ehud Olmert