former Secretary of State James Baker
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
WASHINGTON - According to Thursday's issue of the conservative Washington Times' Insight magazine, the White House was looking into proposal by former Secretary of State James Baker to hold a Middle East peace conference without Israel.
According to the report, the United States government was going to consider the possibility of having a second Madrid Conference in which Arab states would participate, including Syria and Iran, but with without Israel being invited to participate.
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As reported by the magazine, officials said the conference would be promoted as a forum to discuss Iraq's future, but actually focus on Arab demands for Israel to withdraw from territories captured in the 1967 war.
A source in the US government was quoted in the report as saying, "As Baker sees this, the conference would provide a unique opportunity for the US to strike a deal without Jewish pressure. This has become the hottest proposal examined by the foreign policy people over the last month."
Other sources in the government told the magazine that the proposal was supported by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Under Secretary of Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, and National Intelligence Director John Negroponte.
Renewed pressure on IsraelAlso, government sources were quoted as saying Baker's proposal to exclude Israel from a regional peace conference was receiving a lot of support due to Vice President Dick Cheney's visit to Saudi Arabia last November, during which sources in the country made it clear that Israel, and not Iran, was the cause of instability in the Middle East.
A US government source claimed that Cheney's original goal of the trip – to enlist Saudi Arabia's support in Iraq - was never even discussed. In addition, the source said that instead, the Saudi's demanding an initiative to end Israel's attacks on Gaza and Cheney merely agreed.
Baker's current initiative was to have the US enlist the aid of Arab States in exchange for an American commitment to renew pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and the Golan Heights.
According to the Associated Press, a high-level commission said Wednesday after nearly four years of war and the deaths of more than 2,900 U.S. troops, the situation was "grave and deteriorating", President Bush's policy in Iraq was "not working", and America's ability "to influence events within Iraq is diminishing".