No 'Annapolis II' planned for Syria

US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch on Thursday threw cold water on the idea of a second Annapolis-style meeting to deal with Syria. He cautioned against believing media reports on the subject and sought to refocus attention on the upcoming parley, a process which he said would require Israeli gestures towards the Palestinians. "Our intention is to have a meeting in Annapolis devoted to the Palestinian issue. That's our goal. We shall achieve it," he told The Jerusalem Post. Welch praised Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for his recent speech on Israel's willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians for the creation of a state in the near future, for which the Annapolis conference - scheduled for the last week in November - is an important starting-off point. But Welch also pointed out the need for Israel to take steps towards the Palestinians, saying Olmert "recognized that Israel has to do some things too." Welch referred to the road map as a guide for Israel's obligations. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, the head of Israel's strategic dialogue team, said that Israel and the Palestinians were not seeing eye to eye on the type of resolution to be put foreword at Annapolis. In Washington this week meeting with American officials, Mofaz said that while the Palestinians had been demanding a detailed framework for the resolution of the core issues of the conflict, Israel sees the Annapolis meeting as a way to approach implementing just the first phase of the road map. In the first phase of the road map, Israel must remove illegal outposts and freeze settlement expansion. Mofaz, speaking to the Israeli press, stressed that the focus for Annapolis needed to be on "strengthening" Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, so that he would have the authority and control to begin implementing his own road map obligations, particularly concerning security. Mofaz declined to address recent comments by US President George W. Bush on the possibility of Iran causing an international conflict. "If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon," Bush told German TV on Wednesday. "Now is the time to move," he said, noting his preference for diplomacy while leaving "all options" on the table. Mofaz similarly described Israel as trying to use diplomacy to keep Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, but warned that "if we cannot stop advancement... other options exist." Iran was the central issue of the strategic dialogue conversations Mofaz had with American officials, including US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Nicholas Burns, the State Department's No. 3 diplomat. Mofaz also slammed International Atomic Energy (IAEA) Head Mohamed ElBaradei, who said he hasn't seen explicit proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Israel has been increasing its rhetoric on the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog agency. The US as well as Israel has expressed frustration at the pace of the council's deliberations, and at the IAEA for hindering that process. Mofaz called ElBaradei's words a "danger to world peace," and recommended replacing him, calling it "the correct choice."