Middle East

What Can Be Accomplished at Annapolis?

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Melissa Block and Ambassador Robert Pelletreau, the former assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs discuss next week's Mideast Peace Summit in Annapolis, MD. Who will be there and what can be accomplished?


We're joined by Ambassador Robert Pelletreau. He was part of the Middle East negotiating team during the Clinton administration and he has a long experience as a diplomat in the Arab world.

Ambassador Pelletreau, welcome to the program.


BLOCK: We just heard a very pessimistic outlook in Peter Kenyon's piece. What are your expectations going into this meeting next week?

PELLETREAU: The pessimism is understandable given the context. There has been so much violence, so little actual engagement in peace negotiations that many observers don't feel there's much that's going to happen. On the other hand, that is contradicted by the fact that the Arab countries are coming. They're coming at a very high level and their coming indicates that the United States is welcomed in its reengagement and peace negotiations.

BLOCK: How significant would you say it is that the Saudi foreign minister is coming?

PELLETREAU: I think that's quite significant. That's a real signal that the Arab world does support renewed peace negotiations and it's a real signal that they welcome the reengagement by the United States.

BLOCK: And what do you expect the role of Syria to be if indeed they do come as it appears they will?

PELLETREAU: Syria is very interested in having issues of importance to Syria on the table. And Syria has received an assurance that the Golan Heights will be discussed and that part of this conference will be devoted to the comprehensive peace issues, that of the issues beyond the Palestinian dimension - Palestinian-Israeli affairs.

BLOCK: Ambassador Pelletreau, you were a part of the U.S. delegation to the Middle East peace conference in 1991 in Madrid. Organizers of this one saying these aren't really negotiations. They're meetings and speeches. How does this work? Can you take us behind the scenes and give us a clue of what will be going on?

PELLETREAU: Well, the Madrid conference was quite different. The context was different. There, the United States was emerging from the victorious leadership in the Gulf War which drove the Iraqis back out of Kuwait. And Secretary Baker meticulously negotiated the attendance of various parties. This conference takes place after seven years of virtually no peace negotiations of U.S. disengagement from Arab-Israeli affairs. So it's understandable that the expectations are quite low. At the same time, it's pretty clear that the Palestinians and Israelis on their own are not able to reach a comprehensive peace. They need the international context, the international support, and they need the engagement of the United States as well. And that seems to be coming together.

BLOCK: The top Mideast official at the State Department is calling this a launching pad for efforts to come. What would you say needs to change if there is to be a real breakthrough in Middle East peace?

PELLETREAU: Well, the first thing that needs to change is the United States has to be an active party to the negotiations. That doesn't mean that the United States is going to impose some kind of a solution. That could never work. But at the same time, the delicate diplomacy here is that there needs to be a gentle hand at the back of the negotiators at the same time as the negotiators themselves are wrestling with the thorny issues.

BLOCK: Ambassador Pelletreau, thanks very much.

PELLETREAU: You're welcome.

BLOCK: Ambassador Robert Pelletreau was assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs from 1994 to 1997.

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