Quartet to discuss ME conference

Touted Moscow int'l conference one of the main issues for discussion in London meeting this week.

sergev Lavrov 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
sergev Lavrov 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The possibility of holding an international conference in Moscow sometime in June is expected to be one of the main issues the Quartet will discuss in London on Friday, with Israel under the impression that the Kremlin remains intent on going ahead with it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who has been promoting the idea, will attend the meeting, along with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top officials from the other two members of the Quartet: the European Union and the United Nations. Israel has not hidden from Moscow that it is not overly enthused about another Middle East conference, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying last month that "what we need to make peace in the Middle East is to sit the two sides together to talk, rather than going to international conventions. This going from one convention to the other is not something I am particularly in favor of." Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, on the other hand, has expressed great interest in the conference, going so far as to say in Moscow earlier this month that "we have great hopes the conference will move forward the peace process between Palestinians and Israel, and that it will lay the grounds for the overall peace process for the entire Middle East that will include Syria and Lebanon." US officials - at least in private conversations - have, like Israel, been cool toward the idea, while the European Union has taken a wait-and-see approach. Moscow first broached a follow-up conference to Annapolis even before the parley was held last November. It is widely assumed that unlike at the Annapolis Conference, the Israeli-Syrian track would also be discussed at a Moscow forum. While Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will be in London the day of the Quartet meeting to take part in the donors' conference for the PA, she is not expected to take part in the Quartet discussions on the Moscow meeting. Livni will, however, be meeting with her Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, for the first time since her criticism of Egypt in December for not doing enough to stop arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. Livni's words prompted a sharp response from Gheit. At the time, Livni told the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that while Egypt had played a positive role at Annapolis, "this does not negate the fact that their performance on the Gaza border is awful and problematic. The weapons smuggling lowers the chances that pragmatic factions in Gaza and the West Bank will regain control." Responding to Livni's statements, Gheit said, "It would be better if the Israeli minister did not run on about matters that she does not know enough about." Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki, a close confidant of Gheit's, met with Livni in Jerusalem on Sunday in what was apparently an attempt to pave the way for the London meeting. Like Livni, Gheit will be in London to take part in a meeting of the donors' conference, known officially as the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, that begins on Thursday. The meeting is expected to be a follow-up to the Paris Conference in December, at which some $7.2 billion was donated to the PA. The London meeting, according to officials in Jerusalem, is expected to look at what happened to the Paris pledges, and the status of various Palestinian projects that were to be funded by that money.