Corridors of Power: Annapolis Briefs, Chavez’s Thin-Skinned Diplomacy

Corridors of Power: Annapolis Briefs, Chavez’s Thin-Skinned Diplomacy

ANNAPOLIS I: THE NOT-SO-SECRET SERVICE -- The Annapolis Conference on the Middle East started with something as mundane as an early morning bus ride. At 8 a.m., foreign ministers and senior diplomats from 46 countries were bussed from the State Department to the U.S. Naval Academy for better security, and to avoid clogging rush hour traffic on the beltway with individual motorcades, it was said. In reality, however, the buses were meant to make sure that everyone showed up at the conference. Security was mainly shared between the local police and the oddly named Uniformed Secret Service, a Treasury Department unit that provides protection for foreign diplomats. Their patrol cars say "Uniformed Secret Service," ignoring the contradiction. Meanwhile, with so many high-profile foreign visitors, the State Department's own security unit was hard pressed to keep up, and advised at least one embassy that it had run out of personnel and could not provide protection for its foreign minister. The State Department didn't call Blackwater to help.

ANNAPOLIS II: GETTING TO YES -- As if by a miracle, Prime Minister Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas were able to produce a joint declaration Tuesday. Weeks of haggling over the content of the declaration had failed to produce a text acceptable to both sides. As late as one hour before the start of the conference, both Israeli and Palestinian officials were telling trusted reporters they still had no agreement on a declaration. But in the end they managed to produce a rabbit out of the proverbial hat -- an American hat, one suspects.

To some old Middle East hands it seemed that Olmert had made a couple of significant concessions. One surprise was the joint Palestinian-Israeli commitment "to confront terrorism and incitement whether committed by Palestinians or Israelis." For years, Arab nations have insisted in the United Nations that Israeli treatment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and Gaza amounted to "state sponsored terrorism" -- and Israel and the United States have been equally insistent in rejecting the criticism.

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