Israeli team: 'Joint statement has been drafted'

Israeli team says agreement on document near; Erekat less optimistic; US set to send parley invites.

Livni Rice 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
Livni Rice 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
Agreement has been reached on a draft for a joint Israel-Palestinian statement ahead of the Annapolis conference, Army Radio quoted diplomatic officials as saying following a meeting between Israeli chief negotiator Tzipi Livni and the head of the Palestinian team, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala). "There are still a number of small points that have not been agreed upon," the officials said. "However, if the Palestinians do not get cold feet there will be a statement to conclude the conference." Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed Monday morning that a draft of a joint statement would not be reached without further intensive talks. "We spent till about two o'clock this morning actually trying to bridge the gaps. There are difficulties still." Erekat told Army Radio. "We're exerting every possible effort. I don't know whether we can finalize the document, we'll be meeting today also." The United States plans to issue as early as Tuesday official invitations to the parley. As the US finalizes preparations, the State Department will start sending out invitations overnight for the event, US officials said Monday. The invitations are to be sent by diplomatic cable to US embassies in the countries concerned, with instructions to Washington's ambassadors to present them to their host governments' foreign ministries, the officials said. They will ask that each nation send its highest-ranking appropriate official to Annapolis. The White House has said President George W. Bush will attend at least part of the event chaired by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who will also host a pre-conference dinner at the State Department on November 26, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. The State Department held off on invitations in an attempt to get as much done to prepare for the meeting before formally committing to the dates. Details about the meeting, including the guest list and agenda, are expected to be made public in the coming days. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said preparations for the meeting were nearly complete and Rice had spent a good deal of time over the weekend calling officials in the Middle East for last-minute consultations. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he spoke with Rice on Sunday and will participate in the Annapolis conference. "I think this international conference in Annapolis will be a good beginning of a credible process to resolve all these issues," Ban told reporters in New York on Monday. "At the same time, I'd like to see that the participants ... base their expectations on a more practical and realistic assessment."