MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. Today at the Arab Summit in Riyadh, Saudi King Abdullah said lack of Arab unity is responsible for much of the trouble in the region. He also pointed to Western countries as culprits.
He called for an immediate end to the economic blockade of the Palestinian territories and as NPR's Peter Kenyon reports, King Abdullah criticized what he called the illegal foreign occupation of Iraq.
PETER KENYON: Ever since he formally succeeded King Fahd in the summer of 2005, King Abdullah has quietly and cautiously promoted reform in the kingdom and a greater Saudi role in regional affairs. In hosting the first Arab summit to be held here in more than three decades, Abdullah helped arrange a number of top-level side meetings and reached out to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who's been largely isolated by key Arab leaders recently.
When it came time to address his colleagues in public today, Abdullah didn't miss the opportunity to deliver a clear call for Arab states to put aside internal disputes and focus on creating Arab solutions to the problems plaguing the region.
Some delegates were pleased to hear Abdullah, heard here through an interpreter, distance himself from the policies of the United States, especially in Iraq.
King ABDULLAH (Saudi Arabia): (Through translator) In our beloved Iraq, we see the bloodshed among brothers in the light of an illegal foreign occupation. The very ugly sectarianism is threatening a country which used to live in prosperity.
KENYON: The king also condemned the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and demanded an end to the international embargo of aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. It was Abdullah who oversaw the formation of the new Palestinian unity government that includes both the Islamist Hamas and the secular Fatah parties.
American and Israeli policies are familiar targets at Arab gatherings, but in what some here took as a bracing show of leadership, Abdullah also delivered a stinging rebuke to the assembled Arab dignitaries. In running down a list of the crises threatening the region, the king essentially said the humiliation of foreign interventions and their disastrous results might have been avoided had Arab leaders stepped forward in time.
King ABDULLAH: (Through translator) In Sudan, Arab lax attitude has led to foreign intervention in its affairs, and in Somalia as soon as a civil war is over another one is sparked off. All that is happening while we are incapable of extending our help to our brothers.
The real blame lies at our door, we the leaders of the Arab world, with our constant differences rather than moving towards unity.
KENYON: Arab differences remain a constant again this year. In the most concrete example, Lebanon sent two feuding delegations to the summit, reflecting the political paralysis in Beirut. But the push to bring some substance out of this gathering will continue, starting with the renewal of the Arab Initiative.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it one of the pillars of the peace process.
Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): Peace between Israeli and Palestinians will not be a regional panacea. The region's conflicts and fault lines have their own complex dynamics. But it would go a long way toward promoting political moderation and pluralism. Solving this conflict is a moral and strategic necessity.
KENYON: But other officials here point out that all this diplomacy can't hide the fact that neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian leadership is strong enough at the moment to convince their populations to accept the compromises necessary for peace.
As Arab League Secretary-General Amru Mousa put it today, vigilance is the call of the hour, quote, "in case the ongoing efforts were to fail, which is very likely."
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Riyadh.