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Saudi Arabia Calls for More US Involvement in Middle East Peace Process


Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki al-Faisal, is urging the Bush administration to get more involved in the Middle East peace process and to persuade Israel to resume negotiations with the Palestinians.

Prince Turki told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies that the United States must reform its policies toward the Middle East.

The Saudi ambassador says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be resolved before other problems in the region can be dealt with.

"All of us must recognize that the U.S. standing in public opinion in our part of the world is at its lowest ever," he said. "Therefore, something must be done to reverse that issue. In our view, the only way you can do that is by solving the problems. The core problem in the Middle East for the last 50 years has been the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. You solve that problem and then you can go on and solve other problems in the area."

Prince Turki's remarks came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is touring the Middle East to talk with Arab and Israeli leaders about renewing the peace process.

President Bush says he is committed to a Middle East settlement that consists of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side-by-side in peace and security.

Mr. Bush says helping the parties reach that goal is one of the great objectives of his presidency.

Moderate Arab leaders have been pressing the United States to help revive the long-stalled negotiations, something the Saudi ambassador says will help all countries in the region.

"I think any friend of Israel, particularly the United States, would do Israel a world of good if it convinced it to enter into the peace process with the Palestinians," Prince Turki said. "Something that will inevitably bring an end to all of the things that all of us face in the Middle East, whether it is terrorism, whether it is land-grabbing, whether it is targeted killings, whether it is demolition of homes and uprooting of citizens on both sides, we see no problem with the United States having a special relationship with Israel. Rather we hope that because of that special relationship that America can do something about convincing Israel to come forward and be more, how shall I put it, more contributive to the peace efforts."

The United States cut aid to the Palestinians after the militant group Hamas won elections and formed a government earlier this year.

The United States and other countries have labeled Hamas, which has carried out numerous suicide bombings against Israelis, as a terrorist organization.

Members of the Middle East Quartet - the United States, Europe, the United Nations and Russia - say Hamas must recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept earlier agreements between the Palestinians and the Jewish state.

Hamas has rejected those conditions.

Prince Turki says relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States "are stronger than they have ever been," and are bound by much more than oil.

He cited the war on terrorism, trade, Middle East stability and military cooperation as pillars of the current relationship.

The ambassador warned critics in the United States against laying down "dictums" for political and social reform in the kingdom, saying change will come in accordance with Saudi traditions and culture.