Wednesday, June 30, 2010

King Abdallah to press Obama on Israel


WASHINGTON: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah will press US President Barack Obama in Washington this week to take a stronger stance with Israel over stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, analysts and diplomats said.

The king will meet Obama on Tuesday after attending a G20 summit in Canada in the latest summit in the seven decades-old relationship between Washington and the world's top oil exporter and a key regional ally.

The Saudis say Obama has not put enough pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to impose a total freeze on Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land, an obstacle to the resumption of peace talks. Netanyahu meets Obama on July 6.

"The king wants to have from Obama the assurance that he is going to solve the (Middle East peace) issue," said Khaled Almaeena, editor in chief of Arab News.

In a landmark speech in Cairo last year, Obama promised to turn a new page with the Islamic world after the United States' image took a battering due to the previous administration's invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and solid backing for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.

"I think it's time for the Saudis and all Arabs to tell the Americans that the situation cannot go on forever with the so-called peace process," said Khaled Al-Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst.

Last year Obama revived a long-standing US request for Saudi Arabia to make gestures toward normalizing relations with Israel as an incentive to the Jewish state to take up serious negotiations over establishing a Palestinian state.

But Saudi Arabia said it would not make concessions beyond the 2002 Arab peace plan initiated by King Abdullah, which offers Israel recognition in return for vacating occupied territories and allowing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

"There remains a Saudi view that if the US really pushed the Israelis, that is what would be necessary to get a peace deal," said Jon Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Diplomats and analysts say Iran will be high on the agenda of the talks in Washington, which will be King Abdullah's third meeting with Obama. Riyadh has said it does not want to see a regional conflict over Iran's nuclear program, which this year led to a new round of United Nations sanctions. The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action to stop Iran, which says it only wants nuclear power to generate electricity.

"They do not favor military action because they realize how devastating it will be," said Al-Dakhil.

The Kingdom's ties with Washington date back to King Abdul Aziz's grant of an oil concession to a US firm in 1933. The king's first trip abroad was to meet with President Franklin Roosevelt on a US destroyer in the Suez Canal in 1945.

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