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Dozens of Nobel laureates and international public figures will convene for the second time here on Wednesday to discuss and define their roles in responding to global crises. While the conference is slated to bring some of the world's greatest minds together to tackle the problems of "A World in Danger," much of the talk among delegates, journalists and guests is of a possible Thursday meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Jordanian sources at the conference said Tuesday that Olmert and Abbas may be seated at the same table Thursday morning at an informal breakfast for delegates hosted by King Abdullah II, as determined by diplomatic protocol. Official statements this week by both the PA and the Israeli government have stressed that there will be no formal meeting focusing on diplomatic issues between the two leaders at the Petra conference.
"This will not be a formal bilateral meeting," one official in the Prime Minister's Office said. "They will probably meet and shake hands, but not discuss anything at length."
Both Olmert and Abbas have been urged by the international community to meet, and such a bilateral meeting is expected within the next few weeks. If they do meet even briefly on Thursday, it will be the first such meeting since Hamas won the PA legislative elections in January and Olmert won the Israeli elections in March.
Olmert's visit to Petra, expected to last no more than a few hours, will be his second trip to Jordan in as many weeks. Earlier this month he held a meeting with Abdullah to brief him on his realignment plan.
"King Abdullah is hosting a breakfast for a number of participants on Thursday morning; among the invitees are the prime minister of Israel and the president of the Palestinian National Authority," Bassem Awadallah, director-general of King Abdullah's office, told reporters yesterday. "I am not aware of any other meetings that have been arranged between the two parties," he added.
The conferees have been invited to Jordan by the King Abdullah II Fund for Development and the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. During the two days of conference, most of which will take place behind closed doors, delegates are expected to discuss challenges to global security and development, particularly in the fields of nuclear non-proliferation, education, health and poverty and economic empowerment. The participants will also give special attention to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and other regional issues.
Abdullah and Wiesel are to address the opening ceremony of the conference.
"Hatred, an old and new infectious disease, is still ravaging the human heart. Indifference imperils our future," said Wiesel, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is to host Abbas and Olmert in separate conversations during the conference. Abbas's session will be held Wednesday at five in the afternoon and Olmert's on Thursday morning.
"Both of them have been invited to a number of events hosted by His Majesty King Abdullah," Awadallah said, adding that the political issues, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Palestinian question are part of the conference's agenda, which aims to reach peaceful formulas to resolve international conflicts. "The presence of Abbas and Olmert falls within this context."
Vice Premier Shimon Peres, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat in 1994, will also be attending the conference. He is scheduled to meet Abdullah on Wednesday.
Herb Keinon contributed to this report.