Last-ditch talks on Annapolis document

Israelis and Palestinians are still trying to hammer out a last-minute joint statement for the Annapolis peace conference.

The Bush administration hopes that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, now both in Washington, can deliver a joint statement on their plans for resuming peace negotiations at Tuesday’s conference in Annapolis, Md.

But the sides have not been on the same page given Palestinian demands for concrete Israeli diplomatic concessions, something Olmert is reluctant to make at this stage amid uncertainly over Abbas’ clout.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convened Israel’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and her Palestinian counterpart, Ahmed Qureia, for dinner in Washington on Sunday in hope of bridging the differences.

Livni’s chief of staff, Aharon Abramovitch, said the 11th-hour talks would continue Monday.

“Each side wants to improve its position and, as time passes by, there are still unresolved issues,” he told Israel Radio by telephone, adding that Monday “may be the last opportunity to overcome the issues regarding the negotiating process.”

U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley played down the importance of agreement on a joint document.

“If we get something, if they can agree on some things as an input to the negotiations, that would be fine,” Hadley said. “But I think it is really no longer on the critical path to a successful conference.”

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