Sunday, November 25, 2007

Syria to attend Annapolis Peace Conference

In a somewhat unexpected development, Syria announced today that it will send its deputy Foreign Minster, Faisal Mekdad, to the Annapolis Peace Conference. Unexpected because Syria's still invited after it didn't use its influence among its allies in Lebanon to compromise on a president there before last Friday's deadline..... this story will continue to unfold in the coming days... key to the report below are Syrian claims that the Syrian-Israeli track is on the schedule...

Syria will attend Mideast summit

The move is a boon for the U.S. talks. The inclusion of Golan Heights on the agenda spurred Syrian attendance, an official says.
By Ziad Haydar and Borzou Daragahi
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

9:44 AM PST, November 25, 2007

DAMASCUS — In a move that could bolster the credibility of the Bush administration's upcoming Mideast peace talks, Syria has decided to send a representative to attend the conference this week in Annapolis, Md., the country's official news agency, Sana, reported today.

Deputy foreign minister Faysal Moqdad will attend Tuesday's talks as head of a Syrian delegation, the news agency reported. Syria decided to attend after gaining confirmation that the disputed Golan Heights, which Israel seized in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, would be on the agenda, a ranking Syrian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

"We received what we have asked for, which is the schedule, and on it is the Syrian-Israeli track," said the official. "Based on that, we decided to go."

Fifteen Arab states and dozens more countries and international organizations plan to send officials to attend the one-day talks, which are meant as a springboard for future dialogue to resolve the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, viewed as a source of radicalism throughout the Middle East.

Syria's decision to attend the conference will please many U.S. and Israeli officials eager to make the talks appear successful. But it will likely upset Iran, which has become Damascus' biggest ally at a time when the West and fellow Arab states have spurned the country of 19 million over its support for Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Tehran has vehemently denounced the Annapolis conference.

"They [the U.S. and Israel] intend to deceive a bunch of people who are like themselves in a watery conference and make them give concessions to the criminal Zionists," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today, according to the Fars News Agency.

Damascus may have decided to buck Tehran because Americans met its condition of including the Golan Heights on the agenda and would face criticism as an obstacle to peace if it then failed to attend, an analyst said.

Sending Moqdad instead of the more senior foreign minister, Walid Moallem, may be a concession to Iran, said the analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity. But Moqdad, a seasoned Syrian diplomat, is considered a relative heavyweight within the Damascus' political elite. Emad Mustapha, Syria's well-connected envoy to Washington, will also attend the talks, the official in Damascus said.

Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad spoke today in a phone conversation and issued a joint statement affirming that conferences such as Annapolis "are destined to failure even before they start," Fars reported.

But Ahmadinejad and his circle of hard-liners had also expressed regret that so many countries in the region had decided to attend the conference, Fars reported.

"What results could they obtain from such conferences in the last 60 years that they want to repeat it now?" the Iranian president said. Special correspondent Ziad Haydar reported from Damascus and staff writer Borzou Daragahi from Beiru

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