Leaders from around the world are gathering in Annapolis, Maryland today for a US-sponsored summit on the Middle East. President Bush met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the White House on Monday.
President Bush: “Thank you for working hard to implement a vision for a Palestinian state. We want to help you. We want there to be peace. We want the people in the Palestinian territories to have hope. And we thank you for your willingness to sit down with Israel to negotiate the settlement.”
More than forty organizations and countries, including Saudi Arabia and Syria, are attending. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports President Bush is expected to make no new or substantive proposals on the core issues at hand. In a speech today, Bush is expected to reaffirm his recognition of Israeli claims to major settlement blocs in the Palestinian West Bank. He is also expected to restate his position that Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in 1948 should only be allowed to resettle in a future Palestinian state. Iran and Hamas have been excluded from the meeting.
On Monday, dismissed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas denounced the talks as a sham.
Ismail Haniyeh: “The lawmakers of the Palestinian people today sign a document which stresses the commitment of the Palestinian people to their full rights and their commitment to the full rights of the nation on the Palestinian land and their rejection to any concessions that harm these rights.”
At least four people were killed in Israeli air strikes in Gaza earlier today, including one civilian near a border crossing.
The Bush administration has signed a new agreement with Iraq that could cement a long-term US occupation. The new “declaration of principles” will steer future talks on US-Iraqi ties. Officials plan to extend the UN mandate authorizing the US-led occupation for another year. A long-term bilateral agreement on US troop levels would follow. Iraqi officials told the Associated Press they foresee an enduring presence of around 50,000 US troops. Under the proposed plan, US forces would operate in permanent bases outside Iraqi cities. The Bush administration is no longer distancing itself from talk of a permanent occupation of Iraq. Deputy national security adviser Lieutenant General Douglas Lute said, “The size and shape of any long-term…presence in Iraq, will be a key matter for negotiation between…Iraq and the United States.” Monday’s agreement also calls for escalating US influence in Iraq’s economy. It calls for “facilitating and encouraging the flow of foreign investments to Iraq, especially American investments, to contribute to reconstruction and rebuilding.”
Meanwhile in Iraq, up to four Iraqi civilians have been killed in a US military shooting in Baghdad. The victims were all bank employees riding in a mini-bus to work. Another five people were wounded.
Iraq’s Interior Ministry is being linked to the killing of eleven relatives of a prominent journalist and critic of the Iraqi government. Colleagues say masked gunmen stormed the family home of Dhia al-Kawaz, killing his sisters, their husbands and children as they ate breakfast. Al-Kawaz is editor of the Aswat al-Iraq news agency. He was in Jordan at the time of the alleged murders. Reporters Without Borders says Iraqi police failed to intervene to stop the shootings. Friends say al-Kawaz has received several threats for his criticism of the US occupation and Iraq’s sectarian strife. On Monday, he called the attack “a message to me and to any journalist inside Iraq or outside Iraq who opposes the policies of the Iraqi government.”
US tensions with Russia are on the rise over accusations of vote meddling. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin accused the Bush administration of trying to taint parliamentary elections set for next week. Putin says the US influenced European monitors to cancel plans to observe the vote.
Russian President Vladimir Putin: “We have information that, once again, this was done on the recommendation of the US State Department. We, of course, will take this into account in our inter-state dealings. This is for sure. Actions such as these cannot wreck the elections in Russia. Their aim is to deprive the elections of legitimacy. That is absolutely clear. But they are not going to achieve that.”
The State Department has denied Putin’s charges. Putin’s comments follow a weekend of protests to his government in several Russia cities. Hundreds of people were arrested.
In France, unrest has again erupted in several Paris suburbs between youths and police. Hundreds of police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets at crowds of teenagers Monday. French officials say more than seventy officers and an unknown number of young people have been left injured. The demonstrators took to the streets after two young North African immigrants died in a police crash. The officers are under investigation for involuntary manslaughter amidst allegations they failed to seek medical help for the young victims. The clashes come two years after a three-week youth uprising prompted by the deaths of two teens electrocuted as they hid from police.
On Capitol Hill, Republican Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi has announced he will step down next month. Lott says he plans to pursue a career in the private sector. His year-end resignation means he’ll avoid an incoming law forcing senators wanting to become paid Capitol Hill lobbyists to wait two years instead of one. Lott has resisted pressure to leave office since December 2002, when he praised the 1948 pro-segregation presidential campaign of Senator Strom Thurmond.
Sen. Trent Lott: “I want to say this about my state: when Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”
Lott was speaking at Thurmond’s 100th birthday party.
And former Vice President Al Gore was back at the White House Monday for a ceremony honoring this year’s Nobel Prize winners. Gore shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for his work on global warming. Gore met with President Bush for over half an hour before the ceremony. It was their first private meeting since December 2000, when Bush was declared the winner in their presidential race despite losing the popular vote.