Will More Meetings Solve the Middle East Impasse?

The current situation in the Middle East is bad on a number of fronts, says NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr. And President Bush is having lots of discussions — but doing very little to make things better.

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President Bush is traveling this week, as well. He's headed to a NATO summit and to a meeting with Iraq's leader, and his trip comes at a time of increased attention on the war.

NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr, is among those keeping close track of what's going on.

DANIEL SCHORR: It's as though hectic motion provides a feeling of action. President Bush, just back from a week in Asia, is off again today for a NATO summit in Latvia and a crisis meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki in Aman, Jordan, considered a safer place than his own capitol of Baghdad.

Jordan's King Abdullah has been on television talking crisis. Asked by ABC about the potential for civil war in Iraq, he said we're juggling with the strong potential of three civil wars in the region, whether it's the Palestinians, Lebanon or Iraq.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan warns that urgent steps are needed to stave off looming war. It is in this atmosphere that the United States appears willing to put aside its nuclear dispute with Iran and its suspicions about Syrian involvement in the assassination of Lebanese statesmen. It is in this atmosphere that Israel talked cease-fire to the Palestinian authority and proposes a prisoner for hostage exchange. And it's in this atmosphere that President Bush intends to put the heat on Maliki and demand tougher action to dismantle the murderous militias.

The Baker-Hamilton Commission is reportedly debating a draft of this report. It is said by the New York Times to be engaged in a divisive debate over timetables for withdrawal of American troops. But the Bush administration and Kofi Annan convey the impression that events in Iraq will not wait for an orderly process of completing and discussing its draft recommendations.

And Iraq does not present the only cause for worry. King Abdullah has said that the killing of an anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon could cause factional violence there to spiral again. He said that unless a regional peace takes hold, there won't be anything to talk about. The Middle East will face another decade or two of violence.

It has been generally thought that President Bush could ride out the rest of his term before any big explosion in the Middle East, but it begins to look as though unless there is a sudden burst of peace, he won't have that long.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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