US peace summit may be at foreign minister level

Olmert and Abbas won't attend if not enough progress made by then.

olmert abbas 224.88 (photo credit: GPO [file])
olmert abbas 224.88
(photo credit: GPO [file])
Contrary to widespread expectations, the US-sponsored international meeting scheduled for sometime this fall may not be held at the level of heads of government, but only for foreign ministers, The Jerusalem Post has learned. Andrey Demidov, the No. 2 diplomat at the Russian Embassy in Tel Aviv, said it was his understanding that the proposed meeting in Washington would "be at the level of foreign ministers." Demidov said that he was told this recently by US Ambassador Richard Jones. While the widespread assumption was that this meeting would be attended by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli diplomatic officials confirmed that they have not been told by the Americans at what level the meeting would be held. "I think it will depend to a large degree on how much progress is achieved before then," one official said. "If there is something to show, then Olmert would go, if not, then it would likely be the foreign minister." Olmert and Abbas are reportedly trying to hammer together an "agreement of principles" that deals in general terms with the issues of Jerusalem, borders and refugees before the meeting is convened. Another Israeli government official said, "The US will determine at what level the meeting will be held." It is widely believed that a get-together at the foreign minister level would considerably lessen the significance of the gathering. US officials said Thursday they had not seen any internal document indicating at what level the meeting would take place. The officials said that a lower level meeting might be more conducive to getting Saudi Arabia on board, a country that has not in any event shown itself to be overly enthusiastic about participating. "For people just trying to break in, the less big a deal this is, the lower level, the better," the officials said. They also said there had been no official indication of where or when the meeting would take place, nor which countries would be participating. Diplomatic officials pointed out that when US President George W. Bush announced his plans to convene the conference in July, he called it an "international meeting," and not a summit. The officials said that a summit implied a gathering of top leaders, while a meeting signified something different. Bush also said the meeting would be chaired by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, something that would also be more logical were foreign ministers, not heads of governments, to be involved. Demidov, meanwhile, said that months before Bush's speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin had proposed holding an international peace conference in Moscow. "We believe that the meeting in Washington can be a good step toward a conference proposed by us," Demidov said, adding that if the US meeting would indeed be held at the foreign ministerial level, then a later meeting in Moscow "could be at the top level." Demidov said that while this proposal had not been raised with Israel, it was being discussed "in the diplomatic community."