Nancy Pelosi discusses Iraq, Mideast in Saudi


Pelosi, whose earlier stop in Syria has been fiercely criticised by the White House, met with the Saudi monarch late Wednesday, one week after he slammed US control of Iraq as “an illegitimate foreign occupation” and warned that the country could slide into a sectarian civil war.


Abdullah and the leading US Democrat discussed “the whole range of developments on the regional and international scenes, chiefly those pertaining to the Palestinian issue and the situation in Iraq,” official Saudi media said.


Abdullah blasted the US occupation of Iraq during an Arab summit in Riyadh which revived a five-year-old Arab plan that offers Israel normal relations if it withdraws from all land seized in the 1967 war and allows the creation of a Palestinian state and the return of Palestinian refugees.


Oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia led the drive to relaunch the Saudi-authored blueprint amid concern in the Sunni-dominated kingdom about the ongoing violence in Iraq between the once ruling minority Sunnis and the majority governing Shiites who are close to Iran, the region’s Shiite heavyweight.


Analysts said the king’s criticism reflected a belief that the US administration’s strategy in Iraq is doomed as well as frustration that President George W. Bush has rejected a Saudi-brokered power-sharing deal between US-backed Palestinian moderates and the militant Islamist group Hamas.


The Bush administration, which is fighting attempts by the Democratic-controlled Congress to set a timetable for the pullout of US troops from Iraq, has accused Pelosi of undermining efforts to isolate the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad over its alleged support of terrorism and purported meddling in Iraq and Lebanon.


Pelosi has shrugged off the accusation and said after meeting Assad on Wednesday that she wanted to help promote peace between Syria and Israel.


But the Jewish state promptly issued a string of demands it wanted satisfied over Syria’s alleged support of terrorism and close links to Iran before any “real” peace talks could begin.


Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said he was ready to attend a meeting with Arab leaders to discuss the revived peace plan but has been accused by the Arab League of seeking normalised ties without making concessions.


Pelosi was due to meet on Thursday with members of Saudi Arabia’s Shura (consultative) Council, a 150-strong advisory body appointed by the king, becoming the first US House speaker to do so.


Pelosi, who is expected to be greeted by speaker Saleh bin Humaid, will not address a plenary session of the council as some foreign leaders have done over the past year, but will have lunch with a group of members.


The council does not include any women, who are subjected to a host of restrictions in conservative Muslim Saudi Arabia.


But Mohammad Ibrahim Al Hulwah, who sits on the council’s foreign affairs committee and Saudi-US friendship committee, told AFP that some female members of European and other parliaments had visited the council before.


Pelosi, who met Israeli and Palestinian leaders and also visited Lebanon during her tour, was due to leave Saudi Arabia early Friday.

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