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ANNAPOLIS -- "Colors", shouts a midshipman at precisely 8:00am in front of Bancroft Hall on the US Naval Academy in Annapolis. And, as if on command, a large US flag is unfurled and hoisted up the flag post.
Three naval cadets salute, as another handful look on at stiff attention. They back off and march away. It is the beginning of another day on a stunningly beautiful campus.
"School in session," one policeman says. "People here are trying to go ahead with life as much as possible." But in a day when the world's leaders are descending on the campus, that will be no easy chore.
The US Naval Academy, founded in 1845, is a sprawling campus of storied buildings, oak and maple trees now shedding their gold, red, purple and burgundy leaves, and numerous plaques, bronze cannons, monuments and memorials to various classes.
One concrete bench reads, "Presented by the class of 1911 in memory of the class members who have given their lives in the service of their country."
There are no flags flying, or welcome signs to the "peacemakers" hanging from trees or poles. On the campus, away from the few building where the activities are taking place, one sign - outside of the enhanced security - that something is different is a white notice pasted on yellow plastic road-barriers that read: "International conference in session. Authorized personnel only."
The placidity of early morning on the campus contrasts markedly with the bustle inside Alumni Hall, where the basketball court was transformed into a media center with 450 journalists from around the world sitting at long, white tables facing a huge video screen.
Concession tables were set up near stands that generally sell popcorn and hot dogs, this time peddling muffins, candy bars and even kosher corned beef sandwiches.
Outside, dozens of television crews have set up on the banks of a creek, using the placidity of the water as a backdrop for their reports from the conference. A few journalists are using the word "hopeful" in their reports, but for most the operative word is "skepticism." Few are talking, as they did at Madrid in 1991 or even Camp David in 2000, in terms of "historic" or "dramatic."
A lot has happened since the last large international Mid East gathering in Madrid in 1991, or the "Conference of Peacemakers" at Sharm-e-Sheikh in 1996. Everyone has become more sober. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge; even under the one spanning the Dorsey Creek that bridges different sections of Annapolis.
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