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Saudi Minister Takes Hard Line Against Peace Gestures to Israel


Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal Friday expressed strong opposition to interim confidence-building gestures toward Israel to advance U.S.-led efforts toward Middle East peace negotiations. In talks with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the Saudi official did praise the Obama administration for its early focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell has been seeking conciliatory gestures toward Israel by Arab countries to ease Israeli concerns about concessions that the country will have to make to secure peace with the Palestinians and the broader region.

But at a press appearance following more than two hours of meetings with Secretary Clinton, the Saudi Foreign Minister stressed his support for the 2002 Arab peace plan that provides for political recognition and other gestures toward Israel only after a comprehensive agreement by Israel to withdraw from all occupied Palestinian territories and dismissed the idea of interim steps.

"Incrementalism and a step-by-step approach has not, and we believe, will not achieve peace. Temporary security and confidence-building measures also will not bring peace. What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset," he said.

Envoy Mitchell is understood to be seeking Arab gestures such as overflight rights for Israeli aircraft and invitations for Israeli scholars to attend academic meetings in Arab states.

But the Saudi minister said discussion of such "incidental issues" were an effort by Israel to shift attention away from the core issue, an end to the occupation of Arab lands and establishment of a Palestinian state.

For her part, Clinton said she did not see her Saudi colleague's remarks as a setback for Senator Mitchell's mission, and said both the United States and Saudi Arabia want a comprehensive peace.

"There is no substitute for a comprehensive resolution. That is our ultimate objective. In order to get to the negotiating table, we have to persuade both sides that they can trust the other side enough to reach that comprehensive agreement. We also know that there are a series of issues that have to be resolved as his Royal Highness said and I've just repeated. You have to take those issue by issue, but within the negotiation for the comprehensive peace agreement. That's not a contradiction," she said.

The Obama administration has pressed Israel for a halt to settlement activity to improve the climate for talks. Israel has countered with a demand to allow so-called "natural growth" of existing settlements.

Clinton, who was briefed by Mitchell Thursday on his latest trip to the region, said the envoy has been "making headway" with Israel and suggested there will be an understanding on the issue in a short period of time but said she was setting no deadline.

Prince al-Faisal said there was nothing discouraging about the state of U.S. diplomacy and said he appreciated the Obama administration's "early and robust" focus on the Middle East.

On other matters, the Secretary said she reaffirmed the United States' unwavering support for Saudi Arabia's security, and said they have shared concerns about Iran's "de-stabilizing role" in the region, the continued expansion of its nuclear program, and support for Middle East terrorism.

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