A much anticipated Mideast peace summit is shaping up to convene during the last week in November, a key participant said Tuesday.
The announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was the closest any official has come to giving a firm date.
The summit was initiated in July at the directive of President Bush and will be steered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. But the gathering had been put off due to continuing disagreements between Israel and the Palestinians over the agenda and questions about who will attend.
The prospective new date signals the success of Rice's recent visit to the region in stirring up momentum for talks to proceed in the United States.
"I assume the Americans will issue the invitations in the coming days and coordinate the exact date in the last week of November," Olmert told a news conference.
Previously, U.S. officials have only said the meeting would take place by the end of the year in Annapolis, Md.
Syria, which is among the countries invited, said it would attend if discussions included the return of Golan Heights, a strategic plateau that Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed.
"We have occupied lands — and that is the Golan Heights. For Syria to attend any such meeting requires that the Golan Heights issue is clearly on the agenda," Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Dardari said.
Rice and Olmert said Sunday that they want Syria to participate — but that the conference must focus on the Palestinians, and not Syria's grievances.
The U.S. has set high expectations for the summit, saying it hopes to launch full peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians after a seven-year lull.
Israel and the Palestinians have been trying to agree on a written set of principles outlining a future peace agreement ahead of the conference, but negotiators say they have made little progress.
The Palestinians want the document to address "core" issues in the conflict: borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state; the status of disputed Jerusalem; and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Israel wants a much vaguer document, though Olmert has said he is prepared to discuss those issues after the conference.
The core issues have scuttled past peace talks, and members of Olmert's ruling coalition have threatened to bring down the government if he goes too far with concessions.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press