Rumors fly over Mideast summit in Annapolis

Mayor says planning continues despite unconfirmed details

police working on security

November 16, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

Annapolis is clinging to rumors and tidbits about a Mideast peace conference that is supposed to take place in the historic state capital.

It's just that no one knows exactly when it will be.

The city has learned the summit is likely to be one day -- not two days long as previously rumored. City officials also have heard from protesters who want to demonstrate but don't know when to arrive.

The mayor said she doesn't know either.

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said she had been told the conference is likely to happen on a Tuesday. But whether that means the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, as was initially rumored, or something in mid-December, which is the latest scuttlebutt, is anyone's guess, she said.

"At one point, the word on the street was that it wasn't going to happen at all," Moyer said. "Now, they're talking about it being just one day. This on again, off again is kind of frustrating. But we're trying to prepare for this the best we can."

There's a lot they don't know. But they do know the conference would be held on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy.

The summit, originally expected to be late this month, might not be until mid-December, a State Department official hinted this week. The president's spokeswoman this week called preparations for the conference "tenuous."

The summit -- which is likely to draw a horde of international media, protesters and top leaders from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and the Persian Gulf states -- has been called the last chance for the Bush administration to help slow a deteriorating situation in the Middle East.

In Annapolis, the summit has not yet seeped into daily conversation.

Moyer said folks in the state capital are still too busy gabbing about the special session and the governor's slots and tax measures.

But Annapolis has been the focus of talk in the Middle East where Israeli media pronounced "Annapolis could be a trap for Israel."

As recently as this week, the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Conference and Visitors Bureau -- usually a key coordinator behind the city's major events -- was not even certain that Annapolis was the summit's location.

"We haven't received official word," said the CVB's spokeswoman Susan Steckman.

But Steckman said Annapolis is used to hosting historic events.

"Annapolis has been welcoming visitors since the 1700s," she said. "This is what we do, and we've been doing it well. Our restaurateurs and hoteliers accommodate crowds from the boat show and Navy football games. They'll be able to handle this."

Restaurant and hotel owners said they're not troubled by the paucity of details.

"The restaurant industry is full of ups and downs. We're used to things changing, happening at the last minute," said Matthew Haley, manager at Morton's the Steakhouse off Annapolis' West Street. "We'll accommodate as many people as we can."

At the Annapolis Marriott Waterfront, front desk manager Candice Downs had the same roll-with-the-punches outlook.

"We're just waiting to hear and see who's going to be staying with us and when," Downs said.

The Annapolis police force is bracing for the broader security effort surrounding the event.

City police have been in talks with state and federal police and security officials about keeping demonstrations orderly "and other matters I'm not at liberty to discuss," spokesman Officer Hal Dalton said.

He said officers have been put on alert that they may have to work on their scheduled days off.

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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