Syria, Saudi Arabia invited to Annapolis

Rice and Mubarak phone Abbas to reassure him about the conference; over 40 parties invited.

Olmert Abbas 224.88 (photo credit: GPO [archive])
Olmert Abbas 224.88
(photo credit: GPO [archive])
Israel and the Palestinian Authority received official invitations to the Annapolis peace conference Tuesday, just one week ahead of its anticipated date. Both sides said they would attend despite ongoing concerns about the wide gaps in the positions of the two sides and a lack of clarity about how the conference would resolve them. Invitations to over 40 other countries and organizations, including Syria and Saudi Arabia, were expected to be given out by the United States, which is hosting the meeting. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said US diplomats had issued the equivalent of a "save-the-date" notice to a long list of invitees. "We have had informal contacts with many of the invitees, so they are aware of the dates and many of the logistical arrangements so they can make their plans," McCormack said. Those contacts over recent days were notified "that an invitation will be forthcoming in the not-too-distant future," he said. The parley is set to begin with a dinner in Washington on November 26, while the formal meeting will be held on November 27, with follow-up sessions scheduled the next day. Though the bulk of the conference will be held at the foreign minister level, US President George W. Bush, who signed the invitations, is expected to also hold a trilateral meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The invitation came as PA officials continued to voice pessimism over the prospects of the conference. They said the PA would participate in the conference despite the growing skepticism, using the platform at Annapolis to reiterate their known positions. Earlier, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak phoned Abbas to reassure him about the conference, PA officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. Rice also spoke by telephone to Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. Abbas told reporters in Ramallah that his talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday had been "difficult." However, he expressed hope that the two parties would find a way to narrow the gap between them. Nimer Hammad, political advisor to Abbas, said it would be a "miracle" if the two sides reached an agreement on a joint statement at Annapolis. "Going to the conference without a document means we are going empty-handed," he told the Palestinian Ma'an news agency. "This means there's a big problem here." Hammad blamed Israel for the failure of the two parties to reach an agreement on a joint declaration of principles. "Israel remains opposed to ending the 1967 occupation," he said. "But we will go to the conference to present our positions regarding our rights and the final-status issues. We want to show the world which party is not interested in peace. We won't allow the Israelis this time to drag us into a situation where we will be condemned by the rest of the world." Other leaders also spoke about the upcoming conference Tuesday. Bush personally discussed the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call earlier in the day. The State Department said preparations for the conference and details about the participation of the involved parties were falling into place, despite a lack of a published guest list, agenda or other details just a week before its scheduled date. "The preparations for the conference are coming together. We are confident that we will get to Annapolis in good shape," McCormack said. "The parties will get to Annapolis in good shape, prepared to accomplish what it is that they set out for themselves." Herb Keinon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.