The United States will try to close an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal before President Bush's term expires, giving the administration a little over a year to help the two sides craft a resolution to one of the world's longest and most intractable conflicts.But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Wednesday that the task will be difficult and fraught with entrenched positions on both sides that have led to the failure of all previous attempts."The parties have said they are going to make efforts to conclude it in this president's term, and it's no secret that means about a year," Rice said. "That's what we'll try and do. Nobody can guarantee that - all you can do is make your best effort." Speaking a day after the administration issued invitations for next week's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md., Rice argued the meeting could already be considered a success because Israeli and Palestinian leaders will agree to launch peace talks with an eye toward completing them and creating a Palestinian state by January 2009. It would be the first such direct negotiations between the two sides in seven years. "The success of this meeting is really in the launch of negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians for the establishment of a Palestinian state," she told reporters of Associated Press Writers MATTHEW LEE and ANNE GEARAN. The United States is hosting Israeli and Palestinian leaders Nov. 26-28 for talks in Washington and Annapolis at which senior officials and diplomats from 46 other nations and groups are also expected to attend and endorse the resumption of direct negotiations. "The parties will go out of here ready to take this on," Rice said. "Now, it's going to be a complex agreement, there are a lot of issues that need to be resolved. But I am prepared, the president's prepared and I know members of the international community ... are prepared to help them along that path." The Bush administration believes the Annapolis session will be an important launchpad for talks to settle the conflict over land, nationhood and rights that underlies Israel's other problems with Arab neighbors. Rice said the U.S. will give room for those other conflicts to be aired at Annapolis, including Syria's dispute with Israel over the Golan Heights. "If Syria chooses to come and wants to speak to its issues ... certainly nobody is going to rule it out of order," she said. Rice could not say exactly which of the invitees would attend or at what level, and the guest list is not expected to be final until the weekend. Bush called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday to discuss the conference, and also phoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak about the session, the White House said. The invitations to the three-day session went out Tuesday after months of intense diplomacy. The administration has announced few details beyond the dates and a cursory schedule. The two sides are expected to present a joint statement on resuming peace talks at Annapolis, yet less than a week before their delegations are to arrive in the United States, the document exists only in vague form. Rice said the document's focus changed during weeks of preliminary meetings between Olmert and Abbas , and ultimately became less important as the two leaders decided between them that they wanted to begin full negotiations. "I think that is actually a healthy development," Rice said. "It's hard with something this complex to just have principles, because the devil in a sense is in the details. You might as well get to the detail, and that's what they're going to do." The conference will be anchored around a marathon session Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Academy to be opened by Bush, who will meet with Olmert and Abbas and address a dinner of all participants in Washington the day before. Back in Washington on Wednesday, Bush plans to see Olmert and Abbas privately again for a third time in as many days, ostensibly to seal their intent to create a Palestinian state by the end of his second term. The intense White House involvement in a meeting that was planned to be run almost entirely by Rice when first broached in July took some by surprise and was seen as a sign that Bush is making a serious bid for a Mideast foreign policy success in the 14 months he has left. Aside from Olmert and Abbas , there were few immediate public commitments to participate in the conference at the foreign minister level. The invitation list includes select members of the Arab League, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki -moon, the international diplomatic "quartet" on the Middle East and its special envoy Tony Blair, the Group of Eight industrialized nations and the European Union. In the Muslim world, there has been great suspicion of the conference, with many nations questioning Washington's ability to forge peace, particularly between two leaders - Olmert and Abbas - who have been weakened by internal political turmoil. U.S. officials, led by Bush and Rice - the secretary has made eight trips to the region this year - insist that the talks will be "serious and substantive," not merely a picture-taking event, and also will address the issue of a broader Arab-Israeli peace.
US seeks to close Mideast deal next year
22 November 2007 03:49 (UTC+04:00)