Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Saudi Arabia Says It May Meet Israel

JERUSALEM, Aug. 1 — Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said Wednesday that his country would consider attending President Bush’s planned Israeli-Palestinian peace conference in the fall, which would put Saudi officials publicly at the same table as their Israeli counterparts for the first time since 1991.

But Saudi officials said a precondition of its attendance was that the conference tackle the four big “final status” issues that had bedeviled peace negotiators since 1979: the fate of Palestinian refugees who fled or were forced to flee their homes in Israel, mostly before or during the 1948 war; the status of Jerusalem; the borders of a Palestinian state; and the dismantlement of Israeli settlements in the West Bank....

The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, said later on Wednesday during meetings with Ms. Rice, who flew to Jerusalem after the talks with the Saudis in Jidda, that Israel welcomed the Saudi comments. But in a sign that the Saudi precondition may not be so easy to meet, she added that sometimes “it’s not wise to put the most sensitive issues out first. ...

If Saudi officials do sit down with the Israelis, it will be the first time they have both attended public talks about Israeli-Palestinian peace since the Madrid conference in October 1991. Saudi Arabia, which is the birthplace of Islam, does not recognize Israel, although Saudi officials have also urged the Bush administration to push hard to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli peace issue. There have been some unconfirmed reports of other contacts between Israeli and Saudi officials, including earlier this year.

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