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Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, President Bush Discuss Mideast Peace - 2002-04-25


President Bush met with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Thursday to discuss the Arab leader's plan for Mideast peace. Saudi officials are downplaying divisions between the long-time allies.

President Bush wants to push ahead with the Saudi leader's plan asking Israel to withdraw from territory it occupied in the 1967 war in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's right to exist.

That plan looked promising when Arab leaders endorsed it in Beirut last month. But since then, violence between Israelis and Palestinians escalated with more suicide bombings and Israeli troops in Palestinian-ruled areas.

Mr. Bush says Israel's Arab neighbors must do more to stop Palestinian violence. Saudi officials say the Crown Prince told the president that he needs to do more to pressure Israel to withdraw from Palestinian areas and free Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from house arrest.

President Bush called on Israel to withdraw from Palestinian-ruled areas three weeks ago. Israel says it is fighting a war against terrorism and will not stop until the job is done.

The meeting at the president's "Prairie Chapel" ranch comes at a low point in U.S.-Saudi relations with some American legislators openly questioning Saudi Arabia's commitment to fighting terrorism.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the terrorist attacks September 11 were Saudi nationals. Saudi officials initially refused to allow U.S. troops to use a sophisticated air base in their attacks on terrorists based in Afghanistan.

Then there was the $100 million Saudi telethon for Palestinian "martyrs" which the White House says Saudi officials told them was not raising money for the families of suicide bombers.

Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congress this week that some of that money may have gone to the Islamic militant group, Hamas.

Saudi spokesman Nail al-Jubeir downplayed tensions in the 70-year-old alliance, saying the relationship is strong, solid, and unbreakable.

He rejected a U.S. newspaper report that the Crown Prince is threatening to cut-off oil and force the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia if the president does not get Israel to stop military action in Palestinian areas.

Mr. Al-Jubeir told reporters that neither oil nor the issue of U.S. troops is on the table at these talks.

He did say there will be "grave consequences" for U.S. interests in the region if violence spirals out of control. If Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is left to his own devices, the Saudi spokesman says, the Israeli leader will drag the region over a cliff.

Senior Bush administration officials say the leaders also discussed trade issue including Saudi Arabia's desire to join the World Trade Organization.

They also spoke about the war on terrorism and what to do next chiefly the president's concern that Iraq could be helping terrorists acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Bush says Iran, Iraq, and North Korea are an "axis of evil" that threatens world peace because they could help terrorists acquire chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons.

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