Officials from 40 Nations at Mideast summit

27 11 2007

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — With a Mideast summit starting Tuesday in Maryland, Israeli and Palestinian officials worked late into the night trying to hammer out a joint agreement on how negotiations would move forward, diplomats from several delegations said.

But the two sides have not agreed on several issues and there was no guarantee that any work plan would be agreed upon, the diplomats said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was cautious but hopeful the parties could finish an agreement, diplomats said.

But Hamas leader Ismail Haniya denounced the Annapolis summit in a televised address Tuesday.

“The Palestinian people will not be bound by anything the Palestinian Authority agrees to in Annapolis,” he said.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders on Monday expressed hope and optimism that a renewed peace effort will emerge from the conference.

Hours apart, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to reporters alongside President Bush, following separate talks at the White House.

Abbas said he hoped the conference would trigger expanded negotiations with Israel that would lead to a permanent peace deal, calling the event a “historic initiative.”

Olmert explained to reporters that this visit was different “because we’re going to have lots of participants involved.”

“I hope we’re going to launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians,” said Olmert. “This will be a bilateral process but the international support is very important.”

Representatives of more than 40 countries, including a wide array of Arab nations such as Syria and Saudi Arabia, will attend the conference at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Monday night, Bush, Olmert and Abbas attended a dinner held by Rice.

In a toast at the dinner, Bush said Israeli and Palestinian leaders would need to make “difficult compromises” in order to achieve a breakthrough during the summit but gave his personal commitment to a renewed peace process between the two sides.

“The extremists and terrorists want our efforts to fail,” Bush said. “We offer a more hopeful vision of a Middle East growing in freedom and dignity and prosperity.”

The Bush administration is hoping the conference will trigger final status talks on major issues such as Jerusalem and Israeli borders.

U.S. officials are looking for a commitment by the Palestinians and Israelis to carry out previous agreements linked to the “road map” plan for Mideast peace.

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