Rice won't bring Annapolis invitations

Officials say date for conference not set, Saudi participation unclear, removal of outposts a must.

Rice Abbas talk 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Rice Abbas talk 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Reversing previous assessments and indicating continued problems in getting the planned Annapolis meeting off the ground, senior diplomatic officials said Wednesday it did not now look like US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would bring invitations to the US-sponsored Annapolis meeting when she arrives here Saturday night. Last Saturday night the officials said that Rice, who will make her eighth visit here, would finally be arriving with a firm date for the conference and invitations. Now this doesn't seem to be the case, the officials said. Diplomatic officials said it was not yet clear whether, or at what level, Saudi Arabia would attend the meeting. Saudi participation is considered essential by both the US and Israel to give the meeting wider legitimacy. Despite the difficulties, Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams met Thursday to continue working on the document expected to be endorsed at the meeting. Diplomatic officials, meanwhile, acknowledged that the US was expecting Israel to remove illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, as well as take other steps to ease life there, such as removing additional roadblocks. But even though the date and participants of the long-discussed meeting remained an enigma, envoys of the Quartet - the US, EU, Russia and UN - were scheduled to convene in Jerusalem on Thursday, according to a UN spokesman. This gathering is expected to focus on Annapolis. In recent days the US - through National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who made a rare visit here last week - has delivered a message to both sides that Washington had invested a lot of political capital in trying to move this process forward, and now expected the parties to deliver. The tone of the US message to Jerusalem in recent days has been that it is not only the Palestinians who have obligations, diplomatic officials said. The US has not spelled out numbers of outposts it wanted to see removed, but made clear it expected action to be taken. A senior official in the Prime Minister's Office said that Israel realizes it has to fulfill its obligations to evacuate the outposts. At the same time, the official said there was no time line, and that it was highly unlikely this would take place before the Annapolis meeting expected to convene before the end of the year. Rice's Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, David Welch, arrived on Wednesday for preparatory talks before her arrival. Rice is scheduled to arrive Saturday night from Turkey, where she will be attending a meeting on Iraq, and is expected to leave Monday morning. Rice is scheduled to deliver an address Sunday night, as will Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Quartet envoy Tony Blair, at the Saban Forum to be held in Jerusalem. In a related development, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Israel Wednesday as part of a regional tour. He is scheduled to meet Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Thursday, for talks expected to focus on Iran. Israel would like to see Berlin take more action to keep German companies from doing business with Iran. German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung is also scheduled to arrive Thursday for a visit and a meeting with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.