U.S. officials say Israeli and Palestinian officials are making progress on an agenda for peace talks on the eve of the Annapolis conference. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is working behind the scenes to try to expedite agreement on the document. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The Israelis and Palestinians have been struggling for weeks to come up with a document that will chart the course of peace negotiations after the Annapolis meeting, and officials here are reporting at least measured progress in the hours leading up to the conference.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met over dinner late Sunday with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qureia. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch is continuing contacts with the two sides.
In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the parties were working well together and hammering away at the terms of the statement, which will commit the sides to resuming talks on final-status issues of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a seven-year break.
McCormack appeared to downplay the importance of terms of any statement that emerges - saying the significance of Annapolis is that it gives a broad international mandate to the intention of the sides to pursue a final peace deal.
"There are many different dimensions as to why Annapolis is important.," he said. "There is the document. There is the fact of the participants list, and the level of participants that you are seeing here. And also Annapolis is less and end point and more of starting point for something, more of a starting point for those final status negotiations."
McCormack stressed that none of the nearly 50 countries and international organizations invited to Annapolis has refused to attend, despite the fact that the official invitations only went out late last week.
Those attending include a dozen member countries of the Arab League committee promoting that organization's 2002 peace initiative to Israel, including several that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel.
Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal is attending as is Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
Syria made its attendance dependent on its ability to raise the issue of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which McCormack said Syria is free to do at the last of three plenary sessions to be held Tuesday at Annapolis, that one focusing on a comprehensive peace in the region.
The other two sessions will center on the Israeli-Palestinian track and on efforts to assist Palestinians in building institutions for statehood, a process being overseen by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, envoy of the international Middle East Quartet.
Secretary Rice will meet her counterparts from the Quartet, which includes Russia, the European Union and the United Nations along with the United States, just before a dinner meeting with all the Annapolis delegates she will host here late Monday.