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Humoring Condi

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, November 26, 2007; 1:37 PM

President Bush's indolent approach to tomorrow's Middle East peace conference in Annapolis suggests that he's just going through the motions to make his beloved secretary of state happy.

Glenn Kessler and Michael Abramowitz write in The Washington Post that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said "that her goal is to wrap up a peace deal by the end of the Bush presidency. But people who have spoken to Bush in recent weeks say he has made it clear that he has no intention of trying to force a peace settlement on the parties. The president's fight against terrorism has given him a sense of kinship with Israel over its need for security, and he remains skeptical that, in the end, the Palestinians will make the compromises necessary for a peace deal. . . .

"Arab officials are skeptical that the conference will amount to much, in part because Bush has remained relatively silent on the matter since he announced the peace talks this summer, said Daniel C. Kurtzer, who served as Bush's ambassador to Israel from 2001 to 2005. 'You don't get a sense that he's invested in it,' Kurtzer said. 'Nobody associates President Bush with this policy.' . . .

"Flynt Leverett, Rice's former top aide on Middle East issues, said she indicated to him that she wanted to be bolder in helping the Palestinian side of the equation but folded in the face of intense opposition from Vice President Cheney, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other conservatives."

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "President Bush's national security advisor said Sunday that the president would not adopt a more activist role in Mideast peace negotiations that start today, even though many observers believe the United States must step up its direct involvement if the effort is to succeed.

"On the eve of a U.S.-convened conference in Annapolis, Md., launching the first formal peace talks in seven years, Stephen J. Hadley said Bush believed Washington's role should be to aid and encourage Israelis and Palestinians, not 'lean on one side or another and jam a settlement through.' . . .

"Many Arab and European diplomats say they believe Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wants to make progress toward peace in the Middle East, but they fear that Bush does not fully share her views and has at times limited her role."

The Unmotivated President

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post about "Bush's near-absence from the Middle East during his presidency. He has traveled to the region four times, but two of those visits were one-day trips to Iraq, and one was for a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"The only time Bush traveled for the express purpose of trying to nudge Israel and the Palestinians toward a peace agreement came in 2003. He met Arab allies in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, and then attended a three-way summit in Aqaba, Jordan, with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas, then prime minister and now president of the Palestinian Authority.

"Bush's record stands in contrast to that of former president Bill Clinton, who traveled to the Middle East seven times, all but one visit focused on the peace process in one form or another, according to records kept by Mark Knoller, the veteran CBS Radio correspondent."

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush once talked bullishly about Middle East peacemaking. He would 'ride herd' on recalcitrant leaders, picking up the telephone whenever necessary and helping produce a long-elusive agreement.

"In truth, Bush has been more a sporadic speaker than engaged enforcer during his seven years in office. . . .


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