U.S. Picks Annapolis, Md., for Fall Mideast Peace Conference Hosted by Bush

The United States has picked Annapolis, Md., as the expected site of a Mideast peace conference this fall that President Bush hopes will launch new negotiations toward establishing an independent Palestinian state, The Associated Press has learned.

The small city about 30 miles northeast of Washington was selected for proximity to the capital and the presence of the U.S. Naval Academy, where the November conference would be based, U.S. and other officials said Friday.

The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the conference have not been announced. The United States has been vague about the agenda, timing and guest list for the meeting, but Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said it will deal with the hardest issues in the 60-year Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Annapolis was also attractive because, unlike other sites near Washington, it has not been the site of any previous Mideast peace sessions.

U.S. officials want to avoid both high expectations and bad memories by not returning to the Camp David presidential retreat, site of both a historic U.S.-brokered peace breakthrough and a failure.

Bush announced in July that the United States would host an international gathering dedicated to jump-starting Israeli-Palestinian talks. The Bush administration wants Arab powerbrokers, notably Saudi Arabia, to attend and lend backbone to the efforts to set up an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Rice, who will host the meeting, said no invitations have been issued. Bush may attend part of the session, which is to bring together Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Abbas and Olmert have been meeting to work out proposals for the conference, set tentatively for November.

The militant Palestinian Hamas group has called on Saudi Arabia and other nations not to attend, and warned Arab countries against offering concessions to Israel.