Iran General NewsIran leader dubs summit a failure

Iran leader dubs summit a failure

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The Guardian: George Bush formally relaunched Israeli-Palestinian negotiations yesterday, inviting Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas to meet again at the White House the morning after the Annapolis summit showcased US determination to bring peace to the Middle East despite near-universal scepticism about the prospects. The Guardian

· Bush hopes for progress despite press scepticism
· US to monitor parties’ compliance to road map

Ian Black in Washington

George Bush formally relaunched Israeli-Palestinian negotiations yesterday, inviting Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas to meet again at the White House the morning after the Annapolis summit showcased US determination to bring peace to the Middle East despite near-universal scepticism about the prospects.

In the face of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip, Hamas rocket fire into Israel, violence in the West Bank and Iranian taunts that his policies had failed, the president was keen to show he was serious about supporting the search for a two-state solution in his remaining 14 months of office.

On Tuesday the Palestinian president and Israeli prime minister pledged to secure a peace treaty by the end of 2008 but the Maryland conference did nothing to dispel doubts about their ability to reach agreement on the core issues of the conflict in the face of domestic opposition.

Many Arab commentators dismissed the summit as a meaningless sham. “Soon, even the most politically doltish individuals will understand that this conference was a failure,” said a scornful Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, the Iranian president.

Doubts remain about whether Bush is prepared to get engaged in negotiations to the same extent as Bill Clinton who tried – but failed – to broker a peace deal in the last days of his presidency seven years ago.

The White House says the president has no plans to visit the region and will leave the “heavy lifting” to Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of state. “Given the president’s stake in the two ‘I’ words – Iran and Iraq – the third ‘I’ – the Israeli-Palestinian issue, is just not up there,” said Aaron David Miller, a former official.

“Bush is not Clinton,” commented Shmuel Rosner of Israel’s Ha’aretz newspaper, “and despite the temptation, he also does not want to be him. He never was interested in the minute details of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and he never pretended to be a magician who would pull a trick out of his hat to solve it.”

Bush invested political capital in Annapolis, securing the attendance of 44 countries, including Saudi Arabia and the 22-member Arab League. But the summit produced no new plan or mechanism for outside involvement in talks.

It was agreed that the US “will monitor and judge” the parties’ compliance with the long moribund 2003 “road map” – requiring Israelis to dismantle settlements and the Palestinians to crack down on terrorism. General James Jones, a former Nato commander, has been asked to follow the performance of the Palestinian security forces.

But there is no explicit US commitment to press either side publicly for not complying. The Quartet, comprising the EU, UN and Russia as well as the US, appears to have been excluded.

Neither Olmert nor Abbas offered any new ideas and the meeting began with a “joint statement” because they had been unable to agree a more detailed declaration. Negotiating teams convene on December 12 and are supposed to stay in session while moves continue to support the process internationally. The next stage is a donors conference in Paris on December 17, when Tony Blair, representing the Quartet, will lay out plans for Palestinian economic development and governance.

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