Syria to attend; PM to unveil his vision for region
WASHINGTON - The implementation of the road map peace plan is imperative, and terminating terrorist activity in the Gaza Strip is an inseparable part of the plan's first stage. That, according to sources close to the prime minister, will be the theme of Ehud Olmert's address tomorrow at the Annapolis international peace summit.
Olmert, the sources told Haaretz, will also say that the time has come to move forward with peace talks and reach an agreement. According to Syrian Information Minister Muhsen Bilal's statement yesterday, the summit in Annapolis will see a Syrian delegation attending as well, headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.
Olmert will call on the Arab nations to establish diplomatic relations with Israel as Jordan and Egypt have. He will also call on them to actively advance negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Commenting on Syria's decision to send a delegation to the summit, sources close to the prime minister told Haaretz that the decision "is demonstrative of which camp the Syrians want to belong to: moderates, as opposed to radicals."
The same sources said that even though the delegation will not be headed by a foreign minister as other Arab states, "it is nonetheless a envoy who will come especially from Damascus and not an ambassador already stationed in the United States." The sources said that despite the Syrian contingent, "the conference is designed to discuss the Palestinian issue and that has to be the focus of attention."
Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who arrived in Washington D.C. yesterday, have spent the day being briefed by their advisers and preparing for the meeting. Defense Minister Ehud Barak is scheduled to join them tomorrow, after stopping in New York.
Olmert, Livni and Barak are slated to meet U.S. President George W. Bush today, in preparation for the summit. Bush is scheduled to meet separately with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiation teams were busy formulating a joint declaration which they plan to present at the summit. An Israeli delegate told Haaretz that the completion of the joint declaration "depends on the Palestinians' will."
According to media reports, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke with his Syrian counterpart, Bashar Assad, about the summit over the past few days. Ahmadinejad is rumored to have said that the conference was doomed to fail.
The Iranian news agency, IRNA, reported that Ahmadinejad said yesterday that such meetings and conferences were futile as long as rights of the Palestinian nation were not restored. Participation in the meeting, Ahmadinejad reportedly said, is a sign of political ignorance on the part of some politicians. "Those attending the meeting and giving concessions to the Zionist occupiers will not be remembered in history as having a good reputation," he added.
Ahmadinejad said enemies and opponents of the Iranian nation had made some wrong decisions based on false information and raised charges against Iran. "The time has come for you to be courageous and accept your mistake. The Iranian nation is great and will forgive you," he said.
He said that the main problem with enemies of the Iranian nation was that they were not ready to accept their mistakes. "But I recommend them to correct their mistake bravely because they will not be able to take any concession from the nation," he added.
Yoav Stern contributed to this article