- WASHINGTON(UPI) - The United
States said Tuesday that a Saudi Arabian proposal to recognize the state
of Israel once a comprehensive Middle East peace accord is reached is a
"note of hope," but stopped short of formally endorsing it.
- White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said President Bush
praised Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for his idea Tuesday morning in a telephone
call with the de-facto leader of the Arab state.
- But the United States still sees the stalled peace plan
drawn up by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell in April last year as the
best roadmap for reaching an accord, he added.
- "The president welcomes all attempts to obtain a
comprehensive peace," Fleischer added. "It's important to see
what peace would be like at the end of the day ... (but) the end of the
day is very long in the Middle East.
- "You know, there's just been so many negative notes
coming out of the Middle East recently and, at least in this statement
by the crown prince, it was a note of hope," Fleischer said.
- In a recent interview with the New York Times, Abdullah
said his country would seek to normalize relations with Israel if Jerusalem
withdrew from territory it occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
- Before the conflict, all the Gaza Strip was under Egyptian
rule, the West Bank was part of Jordan, the Golan Heights were Syrian territory,
and all of East Jerusalem - including the Old City with its sites sacred
to Christians, Muslims and Jews -- was also Jordanian. Since 1967, Egypt
and Jordan have ceded their territorial claims in favor of the Palestinians.
- In his statements Tuesday, Fleischer only referred to
a comprehensive peace -- he did not mention the pre-1967 borders.
- A senior State Department official Tuesday told reporters
that through official U.S. contacts with Riyadh, the State Department has
interpreted the Saudi proposal to mean that normalization would come after
a negotiated settlement.
- The prospect of a comprehensive accord, however, seems
as far away as ever. Months of violence between Israelis and Palestinians
have repeatedly pushed out of reach the Mitchell plan's first condition
for serious negotiations between the two sides -- a specific period of
non-violence, followed by confidence-building measures.
- The so-called Mitchell plan was drawn up by an international
commission mandated by the Sharm el-Sheikh summit in October 2000, and
headed by the former U.S. senator. In June last year, CIA Director George
Tenet received written understandings from both sides in the conflict agreeing
to terms for a cease fire, but since his visit the violence has actually
- Fleischer stopped short of saying the president endorsed
Abdullah's statement, and while saying it was positive added "it doesn't
in and of itself change anything on the ground in the Middle East."
- A State Department official on Tuesday added to this
sentiment saying, "All of this is dependent on a final status negotiation
between the Israelis and Palestinians. The Saudis are not offering a separate
peace deal; they are not offering a Saudi track. This is a Saudi vision
for the region."
- "All we've asked is let's see if we can't work together
to turn this into something," this source told United Press International
- To that end, U.S. officials are pushing the House of
Saud to encourage other Arab states to reiterate the longstanding understanding
that a negotiated end to the Palestinian conflict would bring with it full
recognition of the state of Israel.
- The cautionary noted sounded at Foggy Bottom found an
echo at the White House.
- "Nothing has changed the president's fundamental
belief that the Mitchell accords are the best path, the best process to
achieve a comprehensive peace agreement that is agreed to by the two parties
in the Middle East. And the president continues to believe that Chairman
(Yasser) Arafat has to do more to stop the violence," Fleischer said
Tuesday. "That is the president's view."
- Next month, the Arab League is scheduled to meet in Beirut.
Abdullah told the New York Times this month that he had initially hoped
to present his proposal at that meeting, but scrapped the plan in light
of the escalating violence.
- As Arab capitals prepare for the summit, the European
Union formally asked the Israelis to lift the travel ban on Palestinian
Leader Yasser Arafat so he may attend as well. Some U.S. officials are
hoping the prospect for a tempered and constructive role from Saudi Arabia
may provide Ariel Sharon's government with enough incentive to let him
- Also Tuesday, the European Union's High Representative
for Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana -- a member of the
original Mitchell Commission -- cut short a visit to Israel and the Palestinian
Authority in order to go to the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
- Solana discussed the Saudi proposal with Israeli Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem, Tuesday, and said later Sharon has,
"expressed a great interest in having more information about the content
of the suggestion that has been presented by the Crown Prince Abdullah."
- Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer told Solana the
initiative "contains innovative elements and should therefore be promoted,
not rejected," the minister's media advisor told UPI.
- Earlier, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres warmly welcomed
the idea and in visits to Madrid, last week, and Paris on Tuesday was reported
trying to get the Europeans to push for it. President Moshe Katsav invited
Abdullah to Israel to explain the initiative adding that if invited to
Riyadh to discuss it, he would gladly go.
- Fleischer said Bush and Abdullah did not discuss the
war on terrorism in the call initiated by the president, but did reaffirm
Saudi-U.S. ties and cooperation.
- Saudi Arabia is a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, but
tensions have arisen over its reluctance to allow U.S. forces based in
Saudi Arabia to use its territory in Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.
campaign against terrorism and Afghanistan's extremist Taliban.
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