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Key players optimistic ahead of Mideast summit

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  • NEW: Bush says "difficult compromises" will be needed to achieve breakthrough
  • Abbas expresses hope that talks can spark final status negotiations
  • Israel's Olmert hopes for "serious process of negotiations"
  • More than 40 nations represented at Tuesday conference in Maryland
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israeli and Palestinian leaders Monday expressed hope and optimism that a renewed peace effort will emerge from Tuesday's conference in Annapolis, Maryland.

Bush, center, met separately Monday with Israeli leader Olmert, left, and with Palestinian chief Abbas.

Both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to the news media alongside President Bush, following talks at the White House.

Abbas said he hoped the conference would trigger expanded negotiations with Israel that would lead to a permanent peace deal, calling the event a "historic initiative."

Olmert explained to reporters that this visit was different "because we're going to have lots of participants involved."

"I hope we're going to launch a serious process of negotiations between us and the Palestinians," said Olmert. "This will be a bilateral process but the international support is very important." Watch Bush welcome Olmert Video

Representatives of more than 40 countries, including a wide array of Arab nations such as Syria and Saudi Arabia, will attend the conference at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Monday night, Bush, Olmert and Abbas attended a dinner held by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

In a toast at the dinner, Bush said Israeli and Palestinian leaders would need to make "difficult compromises" in order to achieve a breakthrough during the summit but gave his personal commitment to a renewed peace process between the two sides.

"The extremists and terrorists want our efforts to fail," Bush said. "We offer a more hopeful vision of a Middle East growing in freedom and dignity and prosperity."

The Bush administration is hoping the conference will trigger final status talks on major issues such as Jerusalem and Israeli borders. U.S. officials are looking for a commitment by the Palestinians and Israelis to carry out previous agreements linked to the "road map" plan for Mideast peace. Video Watch Abbas describe hopes for the talks »

At Monday's media event, Bush said the United States can't impose Mideast peace "but can help facilitate it."

Administration officials also said they hoped the summit would lead toward the strengthening of the Palestinian government's infrastructure after the recent split between Abbas' Fatah party and Hamas.

The talks come amid domestic distractions for both Olmert's government and that of Abbas. Abbas has been involved in a political power struggle against Gaza-based leaders of Hamas, a group which Israel considers terrorist and which opposes the Jewish state.

Palestinian protesters, anxious about possible concessions by the Abbas delegation, have taken to the streets with demonstrations.

Olmert's administration has been plagued by low approval ratings in opinion polls in the wake of Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon-based Hezbollah militants.

Summit goals

Bush administration hopes conference will:

  • Trigger final status talks between Israelis, Palestinians

  • Encourage Israel, Palestinians to honor "road map" agreements

  • Help to strengthen Palestinian government infrastructure

  • Help to establish a broader Arab-Israel peace
  • Syria and Saudi Arabia agreed to attend the conference just days ago after a push from the Arab League, which agreed to participate following a meeting on Friday. The Syrian decision to send its deputy foreign minister comes less than three months after Israeli warplanes attacked a site in Syria reported to be a facility linked to nuclear weapons.

    Israel accuses Syria of helping Palestinian militants who oppose Israel's existence. It says Damascus is helping Iran and its anti-Israel policy.

    Like Iran, Syria is listed on the U.S. State Department's roster of State Sponsors of Terrorism along with Cuba, North Korea and Sudan.

    On Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said the conference will draw a line between moderates and extremists in the Arab world. "There will be those who are here, those who support the process, and there will be those who are shouting -- Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah," she said. "They will be on the outside trying to stop this conference from happening."

    Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat agreed that no "magic stick" would emerge from the 24-hour meeting in Annapolis, but he said it would provide the basis for talks that should begin the day after Tuesday's meeting.

    "I think the most important thing today is [the] 28th of November, the day after Annapolis," Erakat said. "Palestinians and Israelis will stand next to each other and announce that they are launching the permanent status negotiations, deciding to put a work plan for the negotiations and to carry out their obligations emanating from the road map."

    Erakat told CNN that his team is open to discussing land swaps, meaning that if Israel takes parts of the West Bank, then the Palestinian Authority could take parts of Israel for a future state.

    Tuesday will be the main event, a full -- and likely long -- day of meetings. On Wednesday, the president again will meet the Israelis and Palestinians at the White House.

    Rice described the final U.S. push for the conference, persuading the Israelis and Palestinians to move past a demand for a new document before the conference and leap ahead to these new negotiations.

    "It's hard in something this complex to just have principles," Rice explained. "The devil is in the detail. You might as well get to the detail and that is what they are going to do."

    The main thrust of the Annapolis talks will be establishment of an independent Palestinian state -- the two-state solution. But other huge issues related to regional peace are expected to surface, especially since long-time Israeli foes, Syria and Saudi Arabia and others, will attend.

    Assistant Secretary of State David Welch told reporters last week that everyone would have the opportunity to speak at Annapolis. "We will not turn the microphone off for anyone," he said.


    Rice also stressed the importance of Palestinian leadership, especially that of Abbas.

    "He brings to this a bedrock commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state not born of violence or terrorism," Rice said. "No one questions that he is someone who believes in a nonviolent negotiated solution. And I frankly don't think that was ever true of Yasser Arafat. He was someone who had one foot in politics and one foot in terror." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

    CNN's Zain Verjee contributed to this report.

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