- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2008

JERUSALEM — President Bush has yet to fulfill a key diplomatic promise to name an envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a promise he made seven months ago.

He arrives here today to start a tour of six Middle Eastern countries.

Mr. Bush pledged during a June speech to name the first U.S. envoy to the OIC, a grouping of 57 Muslim states with headquarters in Saudi Arabia. The crowd at the Islamic Center of Washington, which was quiet for much of the speech, responded with enthusiastic applause.

Saudi Arabia is one of the stops on Mr. Bush’s tour to promote peace in the face of Islamic terrorism, but the White House will not be naming a representative during the trip.

“We look forward to announcing a special envoy to the [OIC], but we aren’t ready to make the announcement now,” said White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore.

Thomas Lippman, a Saudi Arabia scholar at the Middle East Institute, said factors delaying the White House process could include a refusal of the job by a prospective nominee or an OIC rejection of the U.S. offer.

An OIC representative did not respond to a request for comment.

An ambassadorial rank would require Senate confirmation for the envoy, and the process would provide an open forum for criticism of the president’s Middle East policies.

“Most likely, they looked at the prospect of confirmation hearings and chickened out,” Mr. Lippman said. “You can imagine what such hearings would have been like.”

Mr. Bush, announcing the OIC post in June, said he was “concerned about the perceptions in the Muslim world that the United States views the war on terror as a war against a particular religion.” The naming of an envoy, he said, “is an opportunity for Americans to demonstrate to Muslim communities our interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship.”

On Aug. 31, he told journalists he had not identified a candidate but said he was meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that day to discuss the position.

Mr. Bush arrives in Israel today and will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Tomorrow, he will travel to Ramallah in the West Bank to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Bush hosted the two leaders, along with representatives from other Middle Eastern countries, in November.

Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas pledged in Annapolis to aim for a peace treaty by the end of this year that will resolve “all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception,” between Israelis and Palestinians.

The main sticking points are the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s border, and the fate of Palestinian refugees from Israel’s 1948 war of independence.

This is Mr. Bush’s first visit to Israel while president. He visited once in 1998, when he was governor of Texas. Mr. Bush also will visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, believed to be the site where Jesus was born, and the Church of the Beatitudes in Galilee, the traditional site of the Sermon on the Mount.

From Israel, Mr. Bush will travel east to Kuwait, then to Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. He then will spend two days in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. He will close his trip with a visit to Sharm el Sheik, Egypt.

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