MADELEINE BRAND, host:
From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.
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And I'm Alex Cohen.
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BRAND: First though, to Annapolis, Maryland, where representatives of dozens of countries have gathered to talk about Middle East peace. President Bush opened the conference by saying the Israelis and the Palestinians would start serious negotiations in two weeks. The goal: a peace agreement by the end of next year.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The day is coming when the terrorists and extremists who threaten the Israeli and Palestinian people will be marginalized and eventually defeated. And when that day comes, future generations will look -look to the work we began here at Annapolis. They will give thanks to the leaders who gathered on the banks of the Chesapeake for their vision, their wisdom and courage to choose a future of freedom and peace.
BRAND: That's President Bush, opening the Annapolis peace conference.
NPR's Michele Keleman is there. She joins us now.
And Michele, what is the president hoping to achieve today?
MICHELE KELEMAN: Well, this was really just to launch a peace process. And to give you a sense of how difficult even that has been, the two sides were working right up to the last minute on a joint statement that President Bush read out. And it was really just a working plan for what's known as the final status talks. Some are hoping that there would be more of a document that would tackle the thorniest issues facing the Israelis and Palestinians, but instead it was this sort of broad commitment to try to reach a peace deal, as you said, by 2008. There will be steering committees that will meet regularly. And Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will also be meeting regularly. This is what they announced today.
BRAND: So aside from setting up a schedule for further talks, did the president weigh in on any of the core issues?
KELEMAN: Not really. In fact, you know, one of the key issues is, for instance, where the borders of a Palestinian state would be. And the president said borders of a Palestinian state are important, but the nature of a Palestinian state is just as important. So he again talked about the need for the Palestinians to dismantle what he called the infrastructure of terror. You know, these are part of the - what's called the roadmap obligations. These are confidence-building measures that the two sides are supposed to take. He did lay out some of the expectations for Israel as well - as well, he said, and these are the things we've heard before; that Israel, for instance, has to end settlement expansion in the West Bank.
BRAND: And what about Israel and the Palestinian leaders? Did they say anything more specific?
KELEMAN: Well, it's interesting that the two men have somewhat of a good rapport. They were smiling for the camera, shaking hands between their speeches. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, was much more specific about what he wants to see. He said this needs to be the start of comprehensive and deep negotiations on Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, water, security. These are the so-called final status, the core issues that need to be resolved.
He also talked about the need for the removal of roadblocks, release of Palestinian prisoners. He was definitely much more specific and talked about that this is really the international community on the line, that this is really one last big hope to show that a future Palestine is coming, as he said, that it would be - as President Bush had said - that would be borne out of the negotiating table, not out of terror. That's another aspect of this whole conference, is to show that the moderates should be boosted in the Middle East.
Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said he had many reasons not to come here. You know, he said the memories of failures in near and distant past weigh heavily on us. He talked about Palestinian terrorism, that Hamas is in control of Gaza. But he also said that the time has come for a negotiated settlement, and he said the time has come to end the boycott and alienation toward the state of Israel. To have the Arab state there present was important for him.
BRAND: NPR's Michele Keleman from the Annapolis peace conference. Thank you.
KELEMAN: You're welcome.
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