Blair in Riyadh for talks on peace summit
Riyadh, November 22, 2007
Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair will hold talks in Riyadh with King Abdullah centred on a US drive to persuade Arabs to attend a conference next week on Israeli-Palestinian peace, government sources said on Wednesday.
US President George W Bush spoke to the Saudi monarch by telephone on Tuesday to invite him formally to attend the summit at Annapolis, Maryland on Nov. 27. Blair arrived in the Saudi capital on Wednesday from Egypt.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has said the kingdom will attend if there is an agenda that deals clearly with core issues involved in setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdul-Aziz, on a visit to Moscow, said Saudi Arabia wanted the conference to focus on "core issues, at the forefront of which is the creation of an independent Palestinian state."
The official Saudi Press Agency quoted Prince Sultan as telling Russia's Itar-Tass news agency in an interview that the conference should set a timetable for solving various aspects of the conflict -- an apparent reference to peace efforts between Israel and Lebanon and Syria.
He did not say if the kingdom will take part in the conference.
Blair, the former British prime minister, is the diplomatic liaison between the 'Quartet' of peace mediators -- the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations -- and Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries.
Saudi media said he was met at Riyadh airport by intelligence chief Prince Mugrin bin Abdul-Aziz, and a government source said he would have talks with King Abdullah.
Blair came from Egypt where he met President Hosni Mubarak.
"He was in Cairo with Mubarak ... he is trying to pull together a better picture from the Quartet's perspective of who's going to be in attendance," a European diplomat said.
"Whether it will have an impact on the Saudi position is debatable," he added.
Western diplomats say any change in the Saudi position could emerge after Arab foreign ministers meet in Cairo on Friday.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said he will attend the Annapolis meeting.
Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the world's biggest oil exporter, has no diplomatic relations with Israel and even turning up at Annapolis could be seen as a major concession in the Arab and Islamic worlds.
Arab and Western diplomats say Riyadh may decide at the last minute to send its foreign minister, but is more likely to send low-level representatives. - Reuters