( AP ) - A day after Annapolis, cautiously optimistic Syrians and other Arabs warned on Wednesday that any U.S. failure to push forward now with aggressive peace negotiations could spark a violent backlash of dashed hopes. Iran called the conference a failure.
In a sign of Iran's anger over the Mideast peace conference, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scolded Arab nations - implicitly including Iran's ally Syria - that they had made a mistake by attending. He said Israel was doomed to "collapse" and "will not survive."
Tuesday's gathering in Annapolis, Md., was widely seen as in part aimed at isolating Iran by rallying moderates in the region behind a new push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. Syria's participation raised speculation that it could be prised out of its alliance with Tehran and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah - though Damascus has insisted their ties are still strong.
Arab nations had been reluctant to attend the conference, fearing it would be all show without setting a substantive path for peace negotiations - or worse, trap them in a process where the Arabs will have to make concessions without the same from Israel.A day after the ceremonies, few in the region were completely convinced, but many struck a more hopeful tone. Notably, Syria, an opponent of the U.S. in the region, said the conference could be a turning point - though its comments were in part aimed at defending its attendance in the face of hard-line critics.
All said the United States, which Arabs have long accused of failing to press Israel to take the steps needed for peace, had to play the role of a persistent, unbiased mediator.
Al-Baath, the newspaper of Syria's ruling party, said Annapolis could "achieve a lot if the U.S. decides to restore its supposed (impartial) role and make an effort to cover up the defeats, bitterness and catastrophes of its foreign policy."
The Tishrin government newspaper said the conference was a "chance to test the seriousness of the U.S. administration to make peace."
At Annapolis, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faysal Mekdad told the participants Tuesday that his country is "sincere in our pursuit of a just and comprehensive peace, and we possess the political will for that" - but he underlined that Israel must make peace with all Arab countries by returning all lands it seized in the 1967 Mideast war, including the Golan Heights.
Jordan's King Abdullah II, a close U.S. ally, told visiting U.S. senators in Amman it was vital to "keep up the momentum" in negotiations due to start in December, the state news agency Petra reported.
Israel and the United States have spoken of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal by the end of 2008 - informal promises that Arab nations touted as a timeline, though Israel would not be pinned down to a formal deadline.
Moderates warned of the consequences if the expectations are not met.
"What will follow Annapolis? High hopes, then a feeling that something will happen, followed by dashed hopes and an introduction to a new explosion," columnist Shafiq al-Ghabra wrote in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Jarida. "Does the United States realize how serious it is to raise hopes and dash them and the effect of all that on violence in the Middle East?"
Iran - as well as Syria - is a strong supporter of the Hamas and Hezbollah militant groups, which all sides are concerned could try to disrupt negotiations or any deal.
Even before it was convened, Iran denounced the conference as a failure, saying it would not achieve Palestinian hopes and would only discredit Arab countries who participated. On Tuesday, an Iranian government spokesman spoke of Tehran hosting a counter-gathering of Palestinian militant groups though no plans have been set.
Ahmadinejad said that "even the even the most politically doltish individuals" will see Annapolis was a failure.
"We are disappointed that some individuals fell victim to the sinister Zionist regime," he said Wednesday, referring to Arab participants. "They are mistaken if they thought that this summit will bring any achievements for them."
"It is impossible that the Zionist regime will survive. Collapse is in the nature of this regime because it has been created on aggression, lying, oppression and crime," Ahmadinejad said, according to state-run television.
Iran has avoided directly criticizing Syria for its participation - though one senior official said Tehran was surprised by its decision.