Annapolis To Host Mideast Summit

By Raymond McCaffrey and Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 29, 2007

Annapolis, the 300-year-old city that hosted the Continental Congress and was one of the nation's early capitals, will add another chapter to its rich history by hosting a Middle East peace meeting late in November at the U.S. Naval Academy.

U.S. officials said the Bush administration selected the academy in part because it provides a secure facility convenient to Washington. Also, they said, unlike the presidential retreat at Camp David and the Wye Plantation on Maryland's Eastern Shore, the academy is not associated with unsuccessful peace efforts during the Clinton administration.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will host the meeting of Arab and Israeli leaders to discuss terms for a Palestinian state and peace with Israel. President Bush is widely expected to address the meeting at some point.

As news of the meeting spread, local historians drew parallels to the Annapolis of years past. It was in Annapolis that George Washington submitted his resignation to Congress as military leader in 1783. The nation's first war, the American Revolution, drew to a close in Annapolis, noted State Archivist Edward C. Papenfuse. "This was where Congress ratified the Treaty of Paris in 1784, which brought peace and established us as a nation among nations on the international scene," he said. "So it's very fitting historically to be bringing international discussions of peace here again."

The news was met with surprise, excitement and a measure of trepidation in a city already bracing for a possible special session of the state legislature in early November.

"There's obviously a great advantage of having the city of Annapolis the center of the world for a few days," said Bob Burdon, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce.

Still, he said, "The streets of Annapolis have not been widened since the horse and buggy age."

Concerns about how a city of roughly seven square miles will handle a surge of media and dignitaries were quickly set aside when Annapolitans considered the magnitude of the occasion -- and the opportunity to be forever linked to a historic peace pact, like Camp David and Dayton, Ohio.

"I can't think of a more perfect place," said Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D), who learned of the event from news accounts yesterday. "I'm honored, absolutely honored, that we would be connected."

Moyer said the city is accustomed to the periodic swelling in population that comes with the annual legislative session and to events such as graduation at the academy, where the nation's presidents periodically have delivered commencement speeches.

The Bush administration has given only a general idea of which parties may be invited and no indication of the agenda or goals. The gap is still wide on many of the basics.

The administration has tried to lower expectations for the diplomatic effort, first announced by President Bush amid much fanfare July 16. U.S. officials initially billed it as a conference but quickly changed the framework to a "meeting." Rice has repeatedly slipped when referring to the event, having to correct herself after calling it a conference.

Some in Annapolis saw the gathering as simply one more event that should bring customers to their cash registers, just like the upcoming sailboat and power boat shows in October and Navy home football games throughout the fall. "We welcome any event you can bring to Annapolis," said Donnie Bailey, food and beverage manager for O'Brien's Oyster Bar and Restaurant in downtown Annapolis.

Staff writer William Wan contributed to this report.

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