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US Hosts Middle East Peace Conference Next Week 


On Tuesday, world leaders will gather in Annapolis, Maryland to discuss peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. President Bush announced the peace conference earlier this year. He will host a dinner at the White House Monday evening. The U.S. advocates the so-called two-nation solution.

On Wednesday, Egypt and Turkey became the first two Muslim nations to say they are coming. But with attendance of some Arab nations in doubt, a state department official is not saying what outcome to expect from the gathering. VOA's Jim Fry reports.

The U.S. State Department has invited some 50 nations and entities to the Mideast peace conference at the U.S. Naval Academy in the U.S. state of Maryland next week. The invitees include all of the nearby Arab states along with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as many other European, Asian and African nations.

To set the stage, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Mideast Envoy Tony Blair traveled to the Middle East. U.S. policy favors a so-called two state solution, independence for Palestinians adjacent to Israel.

The diplomats met Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Rice also met with the Palestinian leader. But Washington this week would not characterize its expectations from the conference.

Assistant Secretary of State David Welch said, "It is not my job to set expectations high or low. It's my job to try and get it done and move it forward. We think we're doing that here. We think this is a really important moment. In particular, there is a common understanding that this is the moment in which they can change the picture and get a serious negotiation started."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has visited Olmert several times at his Jerusalem residence. The two met as recently as last Monday to prepare for the Annapolis conference.

Earlier, Secretary of State Rice and envoy Blair called upon Palestinian leaders to take responsible actions to reach statehood. "Particularly on security. Intentions will not suffice, only actions will," said Mr. Blair.

Israeli officials have expressed hope the sides could resolve any necessary issues with the Palestinians before President Bush leaves office. The Israeli prime minister said, "We are now moving forward, after Annapolis, on a serious continuous process of negotiations that will refer to all the fundamental issues that are essential for the implementation of the two-state solution."

The fundamental issues include the final borders, Israeli security, the status of Palestinian refugees and their descendants and control over sectors of Jerusalem important to Christians, Jews and Muslims.

Since President Bush announced the peace conference several months ago, one of the uncertainties has been Arab attendance. The State Department’s Welsh said, "We are hopeful and expectant that Arab countries will participate because, as we've indicated to you before, this is a serious effort, it's devoted to a serious purpose."

The U.S. has invited to the Annapolis conference states it labeled in the past as sponsoring terrorism or harboring terrorist organizations.

When asked whether the representatives from Lebanon and Syria will have a chance to give speeches in this session, David Welsh said, "You know, they have been invited. And if they come as we said, we will not turn off the microphone for anyone."

The U.S. views the Annapolis conference not as an ending, but the beginning of serious peace negotiations to achieve security for Israel and statehood for the Palestinians.

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