Exclusive: Rice plans Middle East summit starring Bush, but hedges it round with provisos

The plan for a May summit was first put to the US administration by two Egyptian ministers, Gen. Hussein Tantawi, defense and Gen. Omar Suleiman, intelligence, during a secret visit to Washington last month, according to debkafile‘s sources in the US capital. They proposed that President George W. Bush and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak lead a conference that brought Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian rulers together at the Sinai resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh next month.
In her talks this week with Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian leaders, Rice explored the venture, which she said could fit in between Mubarak’s farewell visit to the White House this month and the US president’s intended attendance of Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May.
While there is interest on all sides, the ifs and buts are formidable.
According to debkafile‘s sources, Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was told he must first make major concessions to the Palestinians and chalk up real progress in their peace talks, else the Egyptian president would opt out of the project.
Cairo was confronted with an even stiffer pre-condition by the Americans: Sinai must first be cleansed of terrorists and paramilitary gangs roaming there, whether they are al Qaeda cells, armed Palestinian Hamas and Jihad Islami groups or weapons smugglers using the strategic territory as a crossroads to the Middle East, Persian Gulf and East Africa. Some of the smuggling rings are run by Iranian Revolutionary Guards, others by al Qaeda and Islamic crime organizations in Europe.
In other words, Egypt was given five weeks’ notice to make Sinai a sterile location and a suitable venue for a Middle East summit to be led by President Bush.
According to our sources, Secretary Rice believes that if the Egyptians can pull of this unlikely task, Israel may be persuaded to go along with an Egyptian-brokered accommodation with Hamas for halting its rocket attacks.

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