Bush and Rice at Odds on Annapolis and Israel Attack on Syria

For the first time since they began working together, President George W. Bush and his secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice are visibly divided on two major foreign policy issues, both related to Israel: The Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, which is still sans date, participants or agenda, and Israel’s attack on the North Korean nuclear project in Syria on Sept. 6, which the president approved.
As she feared, the resulting exposure of North Korea’s proliferation activities stirred a hornets’ nest against her bid to bring diplomacy on Pyongyang’s nuclear program to a successful conclusion with signed US-North Korean contracts for its liquidation.
debkafile‘s Washington sources disclose that this week Bush questioned Rice on the prospects of the Annapolis meeting. “Can you do it?” he asked. “I’m trying,” she replied, thereby acknowledging it was far from being in the bag.
The president was already skeptical, but he cooled further to the conference plan, those sources report, after listening to two American-Jewish delegations who visited the White House last week.
Both voiced concern about Rice’s Middle East policies and the goals she was setting for the conference. They stressed that her expectations of the Palestinians were not only unrealistic but beginning to pose a threat to Israel’s national security.
Bush assured the delegations that he would not let the conference descend into a platform for anti-Israel resolutions that prejudiced Israel’s security.
The reason why Secretary Rice has so far not sent out invitations to the event, which was originally scheduled for late November, is that the State Department is still at sea over the Arab participants and their ranks.
A question mark hangs over Saudi attendance, although Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak passed a message on to Rice when she visited Cairo earlier this month that Riyadh had no interest in the Annapolis event. He told her that if the Saudis stayed away, so too would most other Arab and Muslim governments.
As for the North Korean issue, many circles in the Republican Party and the administration itself are critical of the heavy blanket of secrecy US officials have cast over the nature of the Israeli attack against Syria last month. They are accused of feeding information to the press for the purpose of shaping this story in such a way as not to impede the finalization of US-North Korean contacts. The magnitude and importance of Pyongyang’s nuclear assistance to Syria, which directly contravenes the substance of those contracts, are carefully glossed over.
The more information emerging on the Israeli operation, the stronger the arguments for not signing accords with Pyongyang, they say, and cite two new revelations in particular:
1. It now transpires, according to debkafile‘s military sources, that there was not one Israeli operation in Syria but two: One targeted the unfinished nuclear reactors at At Tibnah east of the Euphrates River and the other, a military site. North Korea was involved deeply in both these Syrian projects – and not only the nuclear reactor.
2. The critics of Rice’s policies, some of whom administration officials briefed on the Israeli operations in Syria against a pledge of confidentiality, are suggesting that Syria had at least one other active partner as well as North Korea and Iran in its nuclear program.
It is not clear at this time how far the president means to go towards bringing the North Korea issue to a close; or how much he is influenced by the revelations tumbling out on Pyongyang’s contraventions and the mounting disapproval in his party and administration.
The Secretary of State’s most extreme antagonists go so far as to accuse her of putting her personal ambition to pull off diplomatic feats ahead of America’s national security interests.
Some sources in the Middle East ascribe her intense drive for a conference in Annapolis to the same motive.

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