Obama, Abdullah Pledge Ties On Middle East

Iran and the faltering Middle East peace process were on the agenda when President Obama hosted Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Tuesday. According to the White House, the Saudi monarch repeated his commitment to the Arab peace initiative. Obama vowed to work on that issue in a bold way.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

At the White House yesterday, President Obama hosted the king of Saudi Arabia. Compared to the friction of recent years, the two countries appear to be on a more steady footing these days. However, the Saudi monarch did raise the issue of Middle East peace, where there's been no progress on resolving the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: King Abdullah once strolled hand in hand with President Bush in Texas, but President Obama avoided that sort of photo op. Instead, the two men appeared only briefly before reporters and gave a long list of topics they discussed over a private lunch.

President BARACK OBAMA: Including issues related to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran and its attempts to develop a nuclear weapons capacity. We discussed the Middle East peace process and the importance of moving forward in a significant and bold way in securing a Palestinian homeland that can live side by side with a secure and prosperous Israeli state.

KELEMEN: The Saudis had been skeptical about the administration's peace efforts in the Middle East, but King Abdullah had no complaints about that in public.

King ABDULLAH BIM ABDUL AZIZ AL-SAUD (Saudi Arabia): (Through translator) You are an honorable man and you are a good man. And I don't say this in order to compliment you. I say this because this is the truth as I hear it from people around the world.

KELEMEN: An analyst who writes about the U.S./Saudi relationship, Thomas Lippman of the Council on Foreign Relations, read those comments this way.

Mr. THOMAS LIPPMAN (Council on Foreign Relations): It seems to me that the Saudis wanted to show that their - what shall we call it -impatience or dissatisfaction over the state of play with the Palestinians is not going to put a distance between the two countries in terms of the overall relationship, which is valuable and indeed indispensable to both sides.

KELEMEN: He says relations are on a much more even keel than during the height of the Iraq War or in the early aftermath of 9/11. Still, President Obama's relationship with King Abdullah did get off to a somewhat rocky beginning, in part, Lippman says, because the president asked Saudi Arabia to make gestures to Israel.

Mr. LIPPMAN: He asked Saudi Arabia to do things that the Saudis simply were not prepared to do, and in my opinion he ought to have known or somebody ought to have told him that they weren't prepared to do them, and it would have avoided the sour notes that came up after his -their first meeting in Riyadh a year ago.

KELEMEN: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that King Abdullah did reaffirm his commitment yesterday to the Arab Peace Initiative under which Arab and Muslim states would recognize Israel once a Palestinian state is established within the 1967 borders.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to visit the White House next week.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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