Low hopes for Bush Mideast trip
He'll celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary, but meet with Israel's Olmert and Palestinian territories' Abbas separately.
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Given these constraints, Bush's itinerary for the trip does not include any kind of three-way US-Israeli-Palestinian meeting.
Bilateral conversations between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators seem to be going well, say US officials. Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas met earlier this month. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to the region in early May.
"So at this point, we think the bilateral negotiations are key.... A lot of [negotiation] is better done, quite frankly, in private than in public," said National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley at a May 7 briefing on Bush's trip.
The trip will be a "mix" between symbolism and substance, said Mr. Hadley. Besides Bush's participation in Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations and his trip to Saudi Arabia, the president will address hundreds of global policymakers and business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt.
In any discussions with the Saudis and the leaders of other Gulf oil-producing nations, Bush is likely to raise the subject of the high price of gasoline, said Hadley.
"The message the president has sent to oil suppliers in the Middle East, and I'm sure will continue to send, is that... as they consider their production targets they need to take into account the economic health of the global community," said Bush's national security advisor.
Out of politeness, the Saudis may announce some action on an increase in oil production levels during Bush's trip, say regional experts.
But given that Saudi officials appear to believe that the Bush administration has not leaned enough on Israel to produce peace-process concessions, and has unsettled the region generally with the invasion of Iraq, politeness may be as far as such an effort goes.
"They're not really going to put themselves out to help this president. In past years, the Saudis have really put themselves out to help American presidents," said Alterman.
On the peace process, in the end it is important that Bush at least has pushed Israel and the Palestinians to discuss the most difficult issues that remain, including the future of Jerusalem and the possible right of return for Palestinians to ancestral land in Israel.
But "it is conceivable that by year's end, with or without the help of our secretary of State or president, that you could have a piece of paper emerge that would create parameters on Jerusalem, borders, refugees, and security, which would be historic," said Mr. Miller at a Council on Foreign Relations seminar.