Syria likely invitee to US peace conference – Rice

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday it was likely that Syria would be invited to an upcoming Middle East peace conference in the United States.“This meeting is about Israel and the Palestinians. But we understand that ultimately there has to be a comprehensive agreement and there has to be progress on the other tracks as well,” she told ABC television.

Rice said no invitations had yet been issued for the conference in the Maryland port town of Annapolis, which she said should take place by the end of the year.

“But we did make clear that it would be likely that members of the Arab follow-up committee… would likely be invited. Syria is a member of that committee,” she said.

The committee is charged with persuading Israel to accept a Saudi-authored peace initiative relaunched in March by the Arab League during a summit in Riyadh.

Apart from Syria and Saudi Arabia, the committee also includes Jordan, Egypt, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Syrian President Bashar Assad has said that Damascus will stay away from the Annapolis conference unless the Israeli-Arab conflict at large is discussed, including the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Tensions between the Jewish state and its northern neighbour neared a boiling point after Israeli jets bombed a site in northern Syria on September 6.

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, says it is doubtful it will attend the US conference if it fails to tackle core issues of the Middle East conflict.

“We’re working very hard with the parties and with regional actors to prepare the conference,” Rice said.

“But I have to say the parties are exhibiting seriousness of purpose. I think they want to end their conflict,” she said referring to Israel and the Palestinians.

If the conference can serve as a springboard for a two-state solution, “that would be a very, very good step for the people of Israel, the people of the Palestinian territories and for the international community as a whole”.

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