Rice Seeks New Focus on Middle East Peace Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will convene a Middle East peace conference this fall. Getting Arab states, including Syria, involved is seen as a key. Analysts also say the secretary must increase the intensity of her diplomatic efforts.

Hear NPR's Michele Kelemen on Plans for a Mideast Peace Conference

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As Iranian President Ahmadinejad makes the rounds in New York City, President Bush will be just across town. He meets today with the president of the Palestinian Authority and a new Middle East envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The Bush administration has been promising to get more actively involved in Middle East peacemaking in its final years.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to make her mark on the international conference this fall.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Though she hasn't sent out invitations yet and the agenda remains uncertain, Secretary Rice told reporters at the United Nations last night that she thinks there is some momentum building to get the Israelis and Palestinians talking about the core issues that separate them. She acknowledged that many are skeptical that this meeting will be as substantial as she's promising.

Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE (United States): I'm not surprised that people wonder if we're going to succeed. If this conflict had been easy to solve, it would have been solved long ago.

KELEMEN: Rice said she would be inviting Arab states. And though she didn't mention Syria by name, U.S. officials confirmed that Syria will be invited, despite current tensions with Damascus over Iraq and Lebanon. Rice said she'll expect something from regional players.

Sec. RICE: We hope that those who come are really committed to helping the Israelis and the Palestinians find a way through. And that means renouncing violence. It means working for a peaceful solution. And so coming to this meeting also brings with it certain responsibilities.

KELEMEN: Getting Arab states like Saudi Arabia to come to the conference will be key, according to Martin Indyk, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Dr. MARTIN INDYK (Brookings Institution): Even though they may have doubts about the seriousness of this administration or how much juice it has left, they have their own interests in wanting to see this move forward. And so I still think it's possible for an enfeebled administration still to be able to make something happen.

KELEMEN: But he says there is a lot of leg work for Secretary Rice to do first to get countries to attend the conference and to move any closer to a two-state solution.

Dr. INDYK: This is going to be a test of her own diplomatic skills. She has a disdain for process. But in this case, she is going to have to get involved in a peace process.

KELEMEN: Rice made a quick trip to the region last week, the latest of several. But analysts in Washington don't see the sort of diplomacy that usually goes along with serious Middle East peace efforts. Some question Rice's hands-off style, letting the Israelis and Palestinians decide how best to proceed.

Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars says the secretary will have to do more to bridge the differences.

Dr. AARON DAVID MILLER (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars): I worked for six secretaries of state. None of them who tried to do serious diplomacy could avoid that model. It required an enormous personal investment, the support of a committed president, and a lot of work by the secretary and aides and/or envoys, who were really empowered and creative to work with both sides.

KELEMEN: He says Secretary Rice seems to be serious, but will have to do some heavy diplomatic lifting in the weeks ahead.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

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