New Hope for the Middle East

Major developments in the Middle East and Pakistan today after U.S. summit.

Nov. 28, 2007 — -- For the first time in seven years, there's hope for the Middle East peace process after a conference in Maryland Tuesday.

Meanwhile, overnight, there was a seismic shift in the balance of power in one of the key players in the war on terror -- Pakistan. And an ongoing outrage over a human rights violation in Saudi Arabia may finally be taken seriously.

President Bush met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders Tuesday in Annapolis, Md., in an effort to kick-start a new and final round of peace talks. It's the first time since 2000 that the United States has made a major push for peace and it appeared that all parties were eager to reach a settlement.

"What has been remarkable about this process is that they're now ready to go," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Robin Roberts on "GMA" this morning. "Arab states that have not been as active in the peace process in the past were there in the room, including Saudi Arabia."

Both sides committed themselves to a peace process that may result in a final settlement by the end of 2008. The success of Annapolis will largely depend on the commitment of Bush and Rice, many observers believe.

"We will do everything we can because this conflict really has gone on too long," said Rice. "The president has made clear that he will do everything that he can in the time remaining to him to try and move this forward."

And it looks as if Bush is living up to his word. Just 24 hours after getting Israeli and Palestinian leaders to agree to talks, Bush invited the pair to the White House to ceremonially inaugurate the long-awaited formal, direct negotiations.

Today he is scheduled to first meet separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and then get them together for an afternoon session declaring the talks formally under way.

Convening the summit represents a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy that some consider an attempt by Bush to leave a legacy. Carter, Reagan and Clinton each made last-ditch attempts at peace in the region at the end of their administrations.

"No one has ever been able to do it so of course one has to be cautious in approaching it, but I think that the reasons for optimism were very much on display yesterday," Rice said.

The Annapolis summit is also seen as an attempt by the Bush administration to isolate Iran, by uniting America's Middle East allies and stabilizing a volatile region in which Iran's influence is growing.

The peace conference also offers an opportunity for Abbas to bolster his support. In July Abbas' Fatah government lost control of the Gaza Strip to rival faction Hamas, which the Bush administration considers a terrorist organization.

The General Steps Down

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan handed over his military uniform Tuesday night, one day before being sworn in as a civilian president for a third time. By stepping down from his position as the head of the army, the former general is fulfilling one of the major demands of his opposition.

"This is a good first step," said Rice. "Really for Pakistan the most stabilizing thing will be to have fair and free elections so that Pakistan can stay and return to a democratic path."

Since declaring emergency rule in Pakistan earlier this month, Musharraf had been under increasing domestic and international pressure to give up his role as head of the army. Musharraf had held the top army and civilian posts in since he seized power in a 1999 coup.

Saudi Rape Victim's Sentence

An international outrage has been growing for months over the case of a woman sentenced to 200 lashes for being raped. The Saudi government has said it will rectify the incident. "But will they keep their word?" Robin Roberts asked Rice.

"Well, were certainly pleased that they've said they'll review it. The world looked at this and said there's no way to explain this. This woman was clearly a victim. And so I'm pleased that the Saudis have said they will review it. That's a very important step."

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this article.