Arab Leaders May Take Up Israeli Peace Plan Arab leaders are gathering in Riyadh for a summit conference that may reaffirm a five-year-old offer of peace with Israel. The plan, drafted by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah when he was crown prince, calls for Israel to withdraw from territory it took in the 1967 war.
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Arab Leaders May Take Up Israeli Peace Plan

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Arab Leaders May Take Up Israeli Peace Plan

Arab Leaders May Take Up Israeli Peace Plan

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Arab leaders begin arriving in Riyadh today as Saudi Arabia hosts the 19th Arab Summit. They have a lot to talk about with ongoing crises in Iraq, Iran and Lebanon. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that the summit also coincides with athe flurry of high-profile diplomacy, as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tries to breed new life into Mideast peace efforts.

PETER KENYON: Rice's meeting with Israeli and Arab leaders and hertheir calls for a revival of the 2002 Arab initiative for Middle East peace have overshadowed the debate among Arab foreign ministers here preparing for the summit. Five years ago, Saudi King Abdullah proposed normalizing Arab-Israeli relations if Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders and permits Palestinian refugees to return.

Israel rejected the plan, but Prime Minister Ehud Olmert now says he may be willing to discuss it, possibly in athe regional meeting including moderate Arab states. Initial news accounts focused heavily on athe remark by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who said committees have been formed regarding the 2002 initiative and it could be modifieda lot of fight in the future if necessary.

A few hours later, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa clarified that the Arab states were waiting to see the details of Rice's proposal, and the committees would be charged with promoting the existing Arab initiative, not negotiating any modifications. Moussa spoke through a translator.

Secretary--General AMR MOUSSA (Arab League): (Through translator) And so we are interested in those renewed efforts and are ready to help ining them, but I'mare not ready to wait and see that the by the end of the year, it will all have been just baloneyney.

KENYON: Israel has refused to deal with Hamas, the elected Islamist majority in the Palestinian government, which won't recognize the Jewish state and won't endorse previous bilateral agreements made between the secular Fatah Movement and Israel.

As far as Saudi Arabia is concerned, King Abdullah already did his part to move the peace process forward last weekend when he hosted Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal and apparently won a promise that Hamas would not torpedo the unity government. Prince Saud said for the Arab states gathered here this week, Hamas' participation on the government is a non-issue.

Prince SAUD-AL FAISAL (Saudi Foreign Minister): (Arabic Spoken)

KENYON: We're not talking about Hamas or Fatah, he said. We're talking about a national Palestinian government. This is the government that will draw off the political framework for the issue. Before, there was ambiguity. But now, there is a unified, common national government.

Several other contentious issues are on the summit agenda. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari made another of his regular pleas for more help from his Arab neighbors in securing Iraq's borders against terrorist infiltration and for more money to help rebuild his shattered country. Many here say it's been the Iraqi crisis and the rise of Shiite -Iran's influence there that has prodded Saudi Arabia to step forward to represent the Sunni-led Arab states.

Late in the day, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived for what Syrian officials hope could be rapprochement with the Saudi monarch. Saudi officials say suspicion of Syrian involvement inand the killing of a major Saudi ally, former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, plunged bilateral relations into a deep freeze.

Syrian officials recently said they look forward to rejoining the debate among Arab leaders. Khalil al-Khalil, a moderate appointed by King Abdullah to the Saudi Consultative Council says the kingdom wants to have good relations with Damascus, but the message Assad will hear tonight is likely to be about the need for Damascus to distance itself from its Shiite ally Iran and from the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

Dr. KHALIL AL-KHALIL (Member, Majlis Ashura, Saudi Arabia): Syriaunni has to come back to it's origins, because Sunni can't be with Iran and Hezbollah. And, of course, the al-Hariri issue wasn't as a big issue, and they have to deal with it. But Syria is a losing country if Syria is going to continue in this dark path and really to, you know, just creating problems for itself.

KENYON: Khalil says Syria needs to realize its role in regional affairs will always be an important but limited one, and its influence will be greatest if it cooperates with the major Arab players.

Dr. KHALIL: These (unintelligible) slogans that they are the only representative of Arabs. They are the only fighters for Palestinian freedom. This is nonsense. We know what's going on. And if they think that taking the hard position will help them about Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Jordan, I think they are mistaken.

KENYON: Observers will be watching this week to see what line Assad takes after his meeting with Abdullah.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Riyadh.

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