Rice Renews Push for Israeli-Palestinian Talks Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is at the U.N. promoting a plan for a peace conference to discuss Palestinian statehood. Rice has made the issue one of her priorities, but observers say she faces an uphill battle on many fronts.
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Rice Renews Push for Israeli-Palestinian Talks

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Rice Renews Push for Israeli-Palestinian Talks

Rice Renews Push for Israeli-Palestinian Talks

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The United States will invite Syria to an international conference on Middle East peace this fall. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice promoted the idea of the conference today at the United Nations, where diplomats are gathering for the annual general assembly meeting.

She met with other members of the so-called quartet - the U.N., Russia and E.U. - and she wants support form them for a U.S. sponsored conference in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Rice faces an uphill battle.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Just back from the region, Secretary Rice is hoping to gather the Israelis, Palestinians, Arab and other key states for a conference this fall meant to give new imputes to the Palestinian statehood. U.S. officials haven't committed to a date, though mid-November looks likely, and Rice has not given out invitations or set an agenda. She reassured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week in Ramallah that what she wants is a serious international meeting.

Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): We have many things to do. We don't need a photo opportunity. We need a meeting that will advance the cause of a Palestinian state. That is the only reason to have a meeting.

KELEMEN: But Abbas is under pressure at home not to attend unless the conference deals with the so-called final status issues the attorney has problems dividing the Israelis and Palestinians; key Arab states including Saudi Arabia have been holding out for more details.

Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group says the best anyone can hope for is a definition of the end game.

Mr. ROBERT MALLEY (Program Director, International Crisis Group, Middle East): If they get a two page - one and a half page statement of what the final status agreement should look like, which should be enshrine in a security council resolution that defines the end game, which is not - I really don't think it's a negligible outcome.

KELEMEN: But he thinks about Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are still too far apart and Rice's style, letting the parties take the lead, may not be of much help. And Malley says even if the two sides do reach an agreement o the end game, getting there in the current environment is virtually impossible.

Mr. MALLEY: You have a situation on the ground that remains for the Palestinians, at least, as bad as it's even been. And you have these divisions among Palestinians between the West Bank and Gaza, between Fatah and Hamas, which is going to make it virtually impossible for any Palestinian leader to get an agreement endorse by his people, let alone implement it on the ground.

KELEMEN: Despite the odds, Secretary Rice has made the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations one of her priorities.

Aaron David Miller of Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars says Secretary Rice is interested in building her legacy.

Mr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): That interest driven, I think, impart by Abbas' and Olmert frustration and desperation and it part by her own desire to do consequential diplomacy. Something that would be recognized as Condi Rice took a hard issue, worked it and made it better. The problem is that desperation and the ticking clock alone aren't sufficient.

KELEMEN: Miller, who advise six former secretaries of state on the Middle East, says if Rice really wants to make her mark, she'll have to do more heavy lifting and some serious prep work for this conference that the president asked her to hold.

Mr. MILLER: If it's a one day, Arab-Israeli wonder, or the diplomatic equivalent of the surge, if it isn't design to be sustained overtime. And in this case we're talking 12 months. Then, no matter what it's agreed to - it's not going to matter much.

KELEMEN: President Bush is also weighing in, in a more public way. He meets Palestinian Mahmoud Abbas here tomorrow.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

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