White House to Convene Mideast Talks

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Invitations to the U.S.-led Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Md. are out and now President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice nervously await acceptances. The talks launch the first Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in seven years.


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Steve Inskeep is away. I'm John Ydstie.


And I'm Renee Montagne.

President Bush went to Camp David yesterday, where he's scheduled to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. He'll also have time to prepare for the Middle East peace conference he plans to host next week in Annapolis, Maryland.

Details of the meeting are still being worked out, as NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: The president spoke by phone with two world leaders yesterday, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah and Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to a White House statement, Mr. Bush and the Saudi king shared their views of the process underway between the Israelis, Palestinians and the international community. But it remains unclear whether Saudi Arabia will be taking part in the conference. It's also unclear what the president's exact role will be, as his administration turns its attention to the issue in a way it has not in the past seven years.

Mr. Bush kicked off his holiday by honoring what's become a 60-year tradition at the White House - the pardoning of a turkey. The Rose Garden ceremony featured lots of photogenic children and a big white-feathered gobbler who upstaged the president as he was giving thanks for the sacrifices of U.S. service members.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: And so on this Thanksgiving...

(Soundbite turkey)

President BUSH: ...we keep our - we keep their families and their loved ones in our prayers and in our thoughts.

(Soundbite turkey)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. BUSH: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAYLOR: And as the president flew off to Camp David, the turkey was flown to Florida to be the grand marshal of a Thanksgiving Day parade.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.

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Uncertainty Remains on Mideast Conference

President Bush was preparing Wednesday for the first Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in seven years, but it remains uncertain how many of the key players will even attend the conference.

After months of intense diplomacy, the White House and State Department announced Tuesday that the talks would take place Monday through Wednesday in Washington and Annapolis, Md.

Aside from the dates and a cursory schedule, however, it is not clear how many of the 49 invitees will attend, at what level and what they might accomplish.

On Tuesday, Bush spoke by phone with two world leaders, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah and Russian President Vladimir Putin. According to a White House statement, Bush and Abdullah shared their views of the peace process.

It remains unclear, however, whether Saudi Arabia will take part. It is also unclear what role the president will assume.

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said Bush wants to see the Israelis and Palestinians come together "to talk about the substantial and core issues surrounding the peace process so that we can begin negotiations toward that end."

The two sides were expected to present a joint statement on resuming peace talks at Annapolis, yet less than a week before their delegations are to arrive in the United States, the document exists only in vague form.

Back in Washington on Wednesday, Bush plans to see Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas privately again for a third time in as many days, ostensibly to seal their intent to create a Palestinian state by the end of his second term.

The meeting was planned to be run almost entirely by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when it was first broached in July as a sign that Bush hopes for a Mideast foreign policy success before he leaves office.

"This conference will be a launching point for negotiations leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state and the realization of Israeli-Palestinian peace," said White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Aside from Olmert and Abbas, who received their invitations ahead of the 47 other countries, organizations and individuals deemed important enough to attend, there were few immediate public commitments to participate at the foreign minister level that the U.S. wants.

Aside from the two main parties, the invitation list includes select members of the Arab League, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, the international diplomatic "quartet" on the Middle East and its special envoy Tony Blair, the Group of Eight industrialized nations and the European Union.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was cautious Tuesday as he received Olmert for a meeting ahead of Annapolis, but warned against branding it a failure before it begins.

"Let's wait for the Annapolis conference, and let's not say it is a failure until then," he said. "There are maybe obstacles, but we have to work toward overcoming them."

Olmert appealed to reluctant Arab nations to support the meeting and promised that negotiations would address all issues of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and take into account a Saudi-sponsored Arab peace initiative.

From NPR's Brian Naylor and The Associated Press



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