US seeks Saudis for key An­napo­lis role

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BYNATHANGUTTMAN

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.

PHOTO: AP

Sum­mit hopes: Mah­moud Ab­bas ( left) Con­doleezza Rice and Ehud Olmert

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