Saudi might shun Mideast peace conference



‘The kingdom does not see any use from any meeting or conference… if it is not comprehensive and if it does not tackle major issues,’ Prince Saud Al Faisal told a news conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.



‘If these matters are not addressed by the meeting, I doubt the kingdom will participate,’ he said.



US President George W. Bush has called for the international conference, expected to be held in November, in order to jumpstart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.



But Arab leaders, including US-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, have since said that the conference must also address the Syrian and Lebanese tracks of the long-stalled peace process.



Prince Saud, whose country is a key US ally in the region, identified ‘the issue of Jerusalem and borders’ as among the major questions the proposed conference must discuss, saying these points ‘were clearly spelled out in the Arab peace initiative.’



He was referring to a five-year-old Saudi-authored Arab peace plan, revived at an Arab summit in Riyadh in March, which offers Israel peace and normal ties if it withdraws from all land seized in the 1967 Six-Day War and allows the creation of a Palestinian state and return of Palestinian refugees.



Saud said the conference should also have a specific timetable.



‘If the conference does not have a timetable we will enter into endless negotiations, and this is what Arab countries don’t want to get into,’ he said.



‘Arab states have taken the position that if this conference is to succeed it must tackle the major issues, have a defined timetable, and (impose) parallel commitments on both sides,’ he said.



‘Moreover, Israel must take serious steps to confirm its credibility and seriousness in suing for peace,’ he added, citing the need to dismantle Jewish settlements, open crossings for the Palestinians and allow an improvement in their daily lives.



Saudi King Abdullah discussed the planned conference on Tuesday with Abbas, who later told AFP they had agreed on the need to ensure the success of the talks which should not be just ‘a photo opportunity’ and must be attended by all parties concerned, including Syria and Lebanon.



Oil powerhouse Saudi Arabia previously welcomed Bush’s peace push, saying that it contains elements compatible with the Arab peace plan.


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