Saudi-US talks to focus on peace plan

19 April 2002

The eagerly awaited first meeting between Crown Prince Abdullah and US President George Bush is to take place at Bush's Crawford ranch in Texas on 25 April, the US State Department confirmed on 16 April. At the top of the agenda will be the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and Crown Prince Abdullah's Middle East peace plan, launched at the Arab summit in Beirut on 27 March. The two leaders are also expected to discuss the US policy of 'regime change' in Iraq, energy policy and bilateral relations between the US and the kingdom.

The talks are likely to be frank. The Saudi cabinet on 15 April issued a statement warning the US that 'not obliging Israel to respect the US demand for immediate withdrawal and to respect relevant international resolutions gravely damage the credibility of the US and that of the UN Security Council'.

Crown Prince Abdullah has made similar comments to the US press over recent months, making plain his own view that the superpower has not done enough to broker peace in the region. But Bush himself is coming under fire from conservatives at home for what they perceive as inadequate support for the Israeli military operation. Crown Prince Abdullah's peace plan, which has slipped out of sight of late, could provide an area where the two leaders can push forward common goals for peace in the region.

Alongside the delicate subject of Israel and Palestine, Iraq will provide a source of potential disagreement. The kingdom has repeatedly voiced its opposition to US plans for a military campaign to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Gulf Arab support, if only passive, for the proposals is widely considered vital for any action to succeed.

However, the meeting is viewed as a positive step in relations between the two countries, which have been the subject of considerable press speculation of recent months. Crown Prince Abdullah declined an invitation from Bush to visit the US last summer, ostensibly in protest at US policy in the region. But there is a clear resolve to work through the differences. 'Relations with the Saudis are strong,' said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer on 16 April. 'And, obviously, events in the Middle East lead to complications, and those complications are going to be discussed.'

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