UNITED NATIONS — The United States intends to invite Syria and Saudi Arabia to a Middle East peace conference it plans to hold this fall, a senior U.S. official said Sunday.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reportedly informed top Arab officials before and after a meeting of the so-called quartet of world powers involved in the Middle East peace process, which is made up of the United States, United Nations, Russia and the European Union.
The move was greeted by diplomats as a bold but risky attempt to reinvigorate the long-stalled peace process. Syria and Saudi Arabia are still technically at war with Israel, and the United States has accused the Syrian government of stoking violence in the region.
The last major peace summit to try to create a Palestinian state was held by President Clinton at Camp David in July 2000. Its collapse was followed by the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in September of that year.
Rice acknowledged that some were skeptical about whether Washington's high-level meeting, tentatively scheduled for November in the United States, could push the Israelis and Palestinians closer to peace.
"The international meeting has the potential to galvanize people on a political front and frankly gives the parties something to shoot for, something to look forward to, and frankly that is all we can hope for," Rice said. "If this conflict were easy to solve, it would have been solved by now."
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now the quartet's special envoy for the Middle East, said that the fall conference would address core issues, such as borders, the status of refugees and the division of Jerusalem, but was not expected to solve them.
"There is momentum back in this process," Blair said. "That doesn't mean to say that we are foolishly optimistic after all the difficulties in the past, but things are moving again."