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Bush to Host Israeli, Palestinian Leaders

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Of all his time in office, this week might mark President Bush's deepest involvement in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The president meets leaders from both sides today. They're talking at the White House. And afterward, the president hopes they will make progress talking with each other. Analysts say this president, like others before him, hopes to add some peacemaking to his legacy.

But other factors are encouraging this effort as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: A former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, says after seven years of largely avoiding the peace process, the Bush administration is now trying its hand. And though the key issues are basically the same, Indyk sees one new element in the background - a common fear among the U.S., Arab states and Israel about arising Iran.

Mr. MARTIN INDYK (Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel): It's the old line. The enemy - my enemy is my friend, which is, I think, fuelling this peace meeting more than any other single factor.

KELEMEN: At least this is what seemed to fuel the Bush administration's interest in the first place.

Daniel Levy, a former Israeli negotiator, now with the New America Foundation, says earlier this year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tried to get Arab help on Iraq and Iran when she was basically told by her Arab counterparts that she needs to do something on the Israeli-Palestinian issue to take that card out of Iran's hands.

Mr. DANIEL LEVY (Former Israeli Negotiator; Senior Fellow, New America Foundation): It was two ships parking in the night. And eventually, I think something got for. The sense of this administration was of either an ideological opposition to connecting the dots in the Middle East or an unwillingness to connect those dots. That something that has changed in the last months, and I think Annapolis signifies that change.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thinks analysts are reading too much into the Iran issue and says the gathering in Annapolis tomorrow is about one thing only - formerly launching final status peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians with lots of international support.

Secretary CONDOLEEZA RICE (U.S. Department of State): There is a regionally context here, I think, in which one of the things that has moved maybe all of the parties, but certainly the regional states to recognize that the Israeli-Arab confrontation conflict needs to be ended is that, I think, they understand the broader threat of extremism in the region, and that extremists used as conflict in that way. But this is a conflict that needs to be resolved on its own terms.

KELEMEN: As for the conference, expectations are low. Indyk, who runs the Saban Center for Middle East Studies at the Brookings Institution, says he'll be paying attention mainly to the language in the speeches. He says he wants to see if President Bush will go beyond the broad themes about the need for a Palestinian state existing alongside Israel and actually lay down some specifics.

Mr. INDYK: The Bush statement is likely to painting greater granularity for end game of the two-state solution that the president has endorsed and that the negotiations are supposed to produce.

KELEMEN: President Bush is playing a major public role this week, toasting the parties at a dinner tonight and giving a speech in Annapolis tomorrow. But Dennis Ross, who was President Clinton's Middle East envoy, says he doesn't see the president playing much of a role post-Annapolis when negotiations really begin. That will be up to Secretary Rice.

Mr. DENNIS ROSS (Former Middle East Envoy): This president will never be like Clinton. He will never know the issues. He will never throw himself into it. And so it's up to her, if she wants to do this, she has to take on that kind of a burden.

KELEMEN: Ross is not one to doubt the president's backing of Rice in this endeavor as many other analysts do. The problem he sees in the road ahead is that the Israelis and Palestinians are not only far apart on the big issues - borders, Jerusalem and refugees - but they also don't define in the same way, the confidence barely measures they promised to take four years ago, steps they are expected to endorse again in Annapolis.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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