U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is looking to the past for lessons on how to make next month's Mideast peace conference a success.
As she prepares to host the international meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, Rice has delved into the history of U.S. attempts to mediate peace in the region, plunging into the diplomatic annals and seeking out the major players responsible for both successes and failures.
"She's trying to draw on the historical record and the experiences of others to see what she can glean and how that may be applicable to the current day," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday, ahead of Rice's Nov. 4-6 trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, her second in three weeks to organize the Annapolis gathering.
Most recently, she met this week with Jimmy Carter, sitting down in her office on Wednesday for a talk with the former president who brokered the 1978 Camp David peace accord between Israel and Egypt, the first between Israel and an Arab nation.
Carter has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration's Middle East polices and wrote a recent book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, that some believe is anti-Israeli. McCormack said the differences in approach were not a subject of her conversation.
Rice has also spoken by phone with former President Bill Clinton about his work on the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace deal. She discussed with both Clinton and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright the unsuccessful 2000 attempt in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, to mediate an Israeli-Syrian agreement and their bid later that year at Camp David to forge an Israeli-Palestinian pact.
Others she has reached out to include former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and James Baker, and to one-time U.S. peace negotiators like Dennis Ross, who played a key role in the Clinton administration and the administration of former President George H.W. Bush.
In addition, Rice, whose background is in Soviet studies, asked the State Department historian's office to prepare a voluminous, and classified, compendium of its records on the U.S. role in Middle East peacemaking.
McCormack declined to offer details of her private readings and conversations or discuss any conclusions she may have drawn from them. But he noted that Rice, especially given her background as an academic, has intense interest in studying past diplomacy for clues about what might work as the Annapolis meeting approaches.
"We view the situation as qualitatively different than it has been, the history moves on, people change roles, situations," McCormack said.
"That said, you can take the lessons of history and apply them," he said. "She is a student of history and has a keen appreciation for how we can apply the lessons of history, what we can learn from those who have gone before us."
Rice faces serious obstacles in organizing Annapolis, with both Israel and the Palestinians far apart on a joint statement to be presented to the meeting that she and President George W. Bush hope will launch the start of formal peace talks.
The two sides have fundamental differences over how detailed the document must be and whether it should contain a timeline for progress in the eventual negotiations.
The Israelis want the statement to be as vague as possible while the Palestinians are pushing for deadlines and specific references to the key issues in the conflict, among them the borders of a Palestinian state, the status of disputed Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Rice's last trip to the region, a furious four-day shuttle diplomacy mission earlier this month, produced little apparent progress on bringing the two sides together.
However, she did win at least public support for the Annapolis conference from Egypt and Jordan, two critical Arab allies of the United States that had both expressed skepticism about the utility of the meeting.
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