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Arab Foreign Ministers May Discuss Middle East Peace Conference - 2002-05-09

Arab League foreign ministers are meeting in Cairo to discuss a Saudi peace initiative. But, political analysts believe the ministers may likely end up discussing a proposed Middle East peace conference.

Thursday's meeting was scheduled following the Arab League Beirut summit in late March that produced a unified Arab vote in favor of a land-for peace initiative put forth by Saudi Arabia.

The initiative offers Israel normalized relations if it withdraws to pre-1967 borders, accepts a Palestinian state, and agrees to the right of return of Palestinian refugees.

The purpose of the foreign minister's meeting in Cairo is to discuss ways to implement the initiative.

Mohammed Kamal teaches political science at two universities in Cairo. He said the ministers want to discuss the specifics of creating a Palestinian state in anticipation of a peace conference this summer being proposed by Israel.

"They want to go to the conference with a common agenda based on land-for-peace U.N. resolutions and they want the conference to address final status issues and the creation of a Palestinian state and how to get to that point," Mr. Kamal said.

Abdullah el Ashaal is an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at several Cairo universities. He agrees the Israeli peace conference will likely overshadow any discussion among the foreign ministers about the Saudi peace initiative.

"The initiative presented by Mr. Sharon to the United States for a regional peace conference is going to be rejected by the Arab League, or its going to be examined in light of the Arab League's desire to know exactly what would be on the agenda of this conference, because they feel in the Arab League that Israel is not serious in going to a peace process," Mr. El Ashaal said.

With Tuesday's suicide bombing in Israel that killed 15 Israelis and Israel's recent incursions into Palestinian-controlled territories, Abdel Moneim Said, the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, thinks the foreign ministers will not have much to discuss regarding the Saudi peace initiative.

"I don't know what the ministers will do now. There is very little on the Saudi initiative that can be examined. Now is the anticipation for the Israeli reaction to the suicide bombing, which most likely will be devastating as it was last time," he said.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who met with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Monday, said the Cairo meeting is "purely consultative and will be followed by a formal meeting of the ministers in Beirut at a later date."