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Int'l Engagement At Annapolis Cause For Optimism

By David McKeeby
USINFO Staff Writer

International Engagement in Mideast Conference Cause for Optimism

As President Bush met with Palestinian and Israeli leaders at the White House before the start of a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference, officials highlighted broad international support as essential to move the peace process forward.

"We want to help you," Bush told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas November 26 during a White House meeting. "We want there to be peace. We want the people in the Palestinian Territories to have hope."

In a separate meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert earlier in the day, Bush expressed optimism that the conference would serve as a starting point for negotiations on the establishment of a Palestinian state, renewed dedication to the road map to Mideast peace and expanded international support for the Palestinian Authority's efforts to build strong governing institutions.

"We are going to have lots of participants in what I hope will launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians," Olmert said. "This will be a bilateral process, but international support is very important for us."

Bush will meet again with Olmert and Abbas jointly before the opening of the Annapolis Conference November 27. After the sessions in Annapolis, Maryland, Bush will meet once more separately with both leaders on November 28 at the White House.

In a November 25 statement, Bush reiterated his administration's commitment to a "two-state" solution of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

But Annapolis will not be a forum for negotiations, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley told journalists November 25. Rather, the gathering will be a chance for Palestinians and Israelis to take stock of their diplomatic accomplishments to date and to declare to participants their intent to tackle the "core issues" at the heart of establishing a Palestinian state, he said.

Some 49 nations, organizations and individuals, including 16 Arab states, have accepted invitations to the November 27 conference on the sprawling campus of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, outside of Washington, according to a State Department spokesman.

"The broad attendance at this conference by regional states and other key international participants demonstrates the international resolve to seize this important opportunity to advance freedom and peace in the Middle East," Bush said.

Included in the attendees are a dozen member countries of the Arab League's follow-on committee tasked with tracking the league's 2002 peace initiative, several of whom do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

"I think it's an indication that they appreciate the importance of this effort at this time, the importance that it succeeds, and their willingness to come forward and support that process," Hadley said.

While Israeli and Palestinian diplomats have struggled for weeks to draft a joint statement charting the course of negotiations after the Annapolis conference, Hadley played down the document, saying that their decision to launch negotiations while moving forward on implementing the road map following Annapolis is a more positive development. The 2003 road map document is a comprehensive plan to resolve political, economic, security and humanitarian issues to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack agreed November 26, saying that while there will be a joint statement, "the two parties are now talking about not only what that political horizon is going to be but what that political reality will be," by continuing to implement the road map's confidence-building measures while moving forward on the political track toward a Palestinian state.

This engagement suggests not only intent to support the difficult decisions that Abbas will have to make in negotiations for establishing a Palestinian state, Hadley added, but also that -- in its pursuit of peace with the Palestinians at Annapolis -- Israel eventually may realize a broader reconciliation with the Arab world.

"The Israelis and Palestinians have waited a long time for this vision to be realized, and I call upon all those gathering in Annapolis this week to redouble their efforts to turn dreams of peace into reality," Bush said.


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