US-hosted West Asia peace talks likely in Annapolis

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WASHINGTON, Sep 30 (Reuters) The United States is likely to hold its Middle East peace meeting in Annapolis, Maryland, a site without the echoes -- positive and negative -- of the Camp David presidential retreat, a US official said today.

The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak on the matter publicly, said the gathering of Israeli, Palestinian and other Arab officials, was likely to take place at the US Naval Academy in mid-to-late November.

Annapolis, the capital of Maryland, was temporarily the US capital after the 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris, in which the British recognized the United States as an independent state. It is 35 miles east of Washington.

The US official said no final decision had been made on the location and timing of the meeting, saying that the dates were still up in the air and that it was conceivable that the venue could change, although he did not expect that.

The meeting represents the most dramatic involvement of the Bush administration in trying to broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians after what critics regard as nearly seven years of US neglect of the problem.

In July 2000, former US President Bill Clinton hosted a West Asia peace summit at Camp David with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat that failed to reach a final agreement.

Camp David, which is 65 miles north of Washington, was the venue used by former US President Jimmy Carter for the secret negotiations that led to a 1978 peace deal between Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

The US official said he believed the Camp David history was considered in deliberations on where to host this year's meeting, but did not know how much it played in the decision.

''History sometimes helps. Sometimes it doesn't. I would assume that was part of the thought process, I just don't know how much of a factor it was,'' the US official said.

A State Department spokesman said ''no decision has been made on the venue or the date'' for the peace meeting.

''Unfortunately, at this point, we cannot confirm that,'' said Deborah Goode, spokeswoman for the US Naval Academy in Annapolis said when asked about reports that it would be the site of the peace conference.

REUTERS RS RAI2350

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