Bush Fails to Get Moroccan King to Back Mideast Peace Conference

President Bush tried but failed Thursday to win support for a Middle East peace conference from King Hassan II of Morocco.

During nearly two hours of talks at the White House, Bush told the North African monarch that he was confident Israel would attend the conference, planned for late October. But that did not seem to change the king’s mind.

Frederick Vreeland, a deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, told reporters Hassan explained that he was in the United States as the representative of the five Maghreb states: Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Tunisia and Morocco.

In that capacity, Hassan will go to New York to examine with the “countries most concerned” with the peace process what is the “proper role” for the Maghreb countries, Vreeland said.

Before the White House meeting, administration officials said Bush would seek Hassan’s public support for the peace conference.

The king has played a role for decades as an intermediary between the Arab states and Israel, with whose leaders he has met in secret numerous times.

There was no indication whether he would meet with Israeli officials in New York.

Vreeland would not say that Bush was disappointed with the king’s attitude. He said the president now understood why the monarch could not take such a position.

‘NOT AS PESSIMISTIC AS YOU’

The deputy assistant secretary said that at one point in the discussion, the king said his personal view was that “the Israelis were going to represent a difficulty in the peace process.”

“I am not as pessimistic as you are,” Bush reportedly replied.

“There are problems with Israel, with Syria, and with other countries, the Palestinians,” Bush added. “But we will press on. We are determined to press on.”

Vreeland said the president then defined the proposed conference as the “last best chance” for peace in the region.

During the welcoming ceremony for Hassan, Bush reiterated that the peace process “aims at a comprehensive peace, based on United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and the principle of territory for peace.”

He said this principle should be expanded “to provide for real security and real peace for all the states of the Middle East, including Israel, and for the recognition of the legitimate political rights of the Palestinian people.”

Hassan was less specific in his remarks, saying Morocco will “be ready to contribute to any peaceful solution liable to give each one his due and bring about a just and lasting peace in this area.

“We will constantly be on your side, mobilized in order to seek this peace in the Middle East,” he said.

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