WHISTLER, B.C. - Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight countries committed themselves Thursday to a Middle East peace conference but the when, where and how remained unclear.
The issue dominated the ministers' closing news conference after two days of talks at this quiet, off-season ski resort.
The powerful group issued a statement reaffirming its desire to co-operate in the fight against terrorism, cool the India-Pakistan border conflict, rebuild a ravaged Afghanistan and curb proliferation of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction.
But the timetable to revive the Mideast peace process, seen by many as a key to sapping support for terrorism, remained elusive.
Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham, host of the conference, suggested the original U.S. idea of holding an international conference as early next month now is unrealistic.
"I don't think the United States is talking about July at this time," he said. "However I can't speculate as to what date they're presently looking at.
"I think it will be more likely later in the summer, judging from the climate that we're presently in."
Suicide bombers continue to attack Israel, prompting its military to raid Palestinian communities.
Along with the Israeli government, U.S. President George Bush has soured on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as a peace partner.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said a number of issues surrounding a peace conference - venues, issues and agenda - have to be worked out. Bush is also preparing to release his peace strategy.
"And that will drive the timing and the other modalities with respect to how to move forward and how a conference would help in the process of moving forward," said Powell.
Graham made what appeared to be a thinly veiled plea for Israelis and Palestinians to set aside their hatred while referring in French to reconciliation talks between North and South Korea and the Greek and Turkish sides on Cyprus. A lot of work needs to be done, he said.
"We know what can be done, though, when old enemies understand the futility and waste of war, and the value of diplomacy and dialogue," Graham said.
Powell noted the Palestinians still consider Arafat their leader and he has moved to revamp his government and broach a schedule for elections.
"So in that capacity I believe we do have an obligation to deal with him and not only with him but with other Palestinian leaders as well," he said with an hint of ambivalence.
"We've been disappointed in Chairman Arafat's performance and we hope that performance will improve and we will work will other Palestinian leaders, as well as recognizing the role he currently plays within the Palestinian community."
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw seemed less equivocal.
"It's not in our gift to determine the nature of the leaders with whom we deal," he said, but added Arafat had an important agenda in reforming the Palestinian Authority and his large security force.
"The world is looking to him to implement those reforms."
The ministers played down suggestions that creating a transitional Palestinian state might speed the movement to peace talks.
Russia's Igor Ivanov called the discussion "premature." Powell, who talked about it in an interview to an Arab-language newspaper before the meeting, said the idea is not new and remains under consideration by Bush.
Straw said the British government was still mulling it over.
"We think there is a lot of merit in the proposition," he said. "There are also some disadvantages ... but it's an idea that ought seriously to be considered."
Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi continued to press Japan's case for a larger role in Mideast peace and reconstruction, an area where she said it has experience following its rise from the ashes of the Second World War.
Kawaguchi drew chuckles from her ministerial colleagues when she compared Japan's potential contribution to a favourite Asian condiment.
"Sushi can be edible without soy sauce but is complete with soy sauce," she said.
Only two placard-carrying protesters, local young men, showed up Thursday outside the security fence ringing the luxury hotel where the ministers were meeting. One said he had heard about the conference on TV and thought it was too secretive.
The ministers are wrapping up two days of meetings, in advance of the leaders G-8 Summit later this month in Kananaskis.
FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. NoNonsense English offers this material non-commercially for research and educational purposes. I believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner, i.e. the media service or newspaper which first published the article online and which is indicated at the top of the article unless otherwise specified.