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'US serious about Middle East'

The US government is determined to send out the message that it is serious about being involved in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Last Modified: 11 Jan 2004 19:06 GMT
Dr Shibley Telhami chaired the Palestinian-Israeli panel

The US government is determined to send out the message that it is serious about being involved in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

That is why, a Qatari foreign ministry source told Aljazeera.net, while all panels were closed to journalists at the US-Islamic World forum, the Palestinian-Israeli talks were not. 

The Doha conference, which entered its second day on Sunday is aimed at defining what divides the US and Islamic world and bridging the divide.  
 
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is at the heart of tensions between the United States and the Arab and Islamic world, said the source who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Journalists have been frustrated at being barred from sessions which have discussed issues including the United States' security strategy in the Middle East, US and Muslim views on the laws of high-tech warfare and free-trade. 

But on Sunday, media representatives were allowed to attend a panel including former Palestinian information minister Yasir 

Former Palestinian Information
Minister Yasir Abd Rabbu

Abd Rabbu; former Israeli deputy prime minister Amnon Lipkin Shahak and Jordan's Foreign Minister Marwan Muashar.

It was chaired by Dr Shibley Telhami of the US-based Brookings Institution's Saban Centre for Middle East Policy and Centre Director Martin Indyk.

Calls for US involvement

Washington wants to appear involved in resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict after coming under heavy criticism for not being sufficiently engaged, particularly after the US-led war against Iraq in March, said the foreign ministry source.

"Honesty is much easier to get when we're not worrying about how you're going to be quoted by journalists"

Dr Shibley Telhami
Forum participant
Saban Centre for Middle East Policy

The source, a member of the organising committee, pointed out that Islamic scholars addressing the conference opening stressed the need for a resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. These scholars did not call on the European Union or United Nations for intervention but Washington.

But Telhami said all other panels had been closed because of the necessity for frankness and open dialogue.

"Honesty is much easier to get when we're not worrying about how you're going to be quoted by journalists," he said. "This is not a show."

Telhami, who chaired the Palestinian-Israeli panel, said there was "frankness you usually don't see" among Muashar, Abd Rabbu, Shahak and Indyk.

Organisers decided this panel would not be constrained by the presence of journalists since the players were used to being in the limelight, he added. 

Other panels

As for other task forces, Telhami described them as "frank", adding participants have maintained a constructive attitude.

But the foreign ministry source said the panels were mainly academics expressing their views without discussing an agenda focusing on the future of Arab-US ties.

The conference was organised by the US-based Brookings Institution’s Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, along with Qatar.

Venue

Doha was chosen as a venue for the talks because of its ties with Washington, said the foreign ministry source.

Martin Indyk co-chaired the
Palestinian-Israeli panel

"Qatar has a good relationship with America, particularly after the Iraq war because their base was here," said the source in reference to the US Central Command, the logistic headquarters of the war.

The organiser also said the conference, along with other forums, would pave the way for an increased US presence in the region and serve as a bridge to the Middle East public.

But Telhami, who has been chairing several task forces, disagreed, saying Doha was chosen "because it is a comfortable place for people to express their views". He said the annual forum will also be held in the Near East and Washington. 

The conference has attracted more than 100 intellectuals, academics and diplomats and government officials from Asia, Muslim community leaders in Europe, the United States, Middle East and Africa.

Former US President Bill Clinton arrived in Doha on Sunday and will be addressing the conference at the closing session on Monday.

Source:
Aljazeera
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