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US: Saudi Peace Proposal a 'Ray of Hope' - 2002-02-26

President Bush is praising the Middle East peace initiative put forward by Saudi Arabia. The White House sees the Saudi proposal as a note of hope at a troubled time.

President Bush called Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah to talk about the peace initiative.

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer says Mr. Bush welcomed the Saudi plan. "The president praised the Crown Prince's ideas regarding full Arab-Israeli normalization once a comprehensive peace agreement can be achieved," he said. "The president also conveyed the United States' desire to continue to work closely with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the pursuit of Middle East peace."

But the president stopped short of calling the Saudi initiative a "breakthrough." Mr. Fleischer said the Bush administration believes the first step toward peace should be implementation of proposals already on the table to end Palestinian-Israeli violence.

"The Mitchell accords are the best path, the best process to achieve a comprehensive peace agreement that is agreed to by the two parties in the Middle East," he said. "And the president continues to believe that Chairman Arafat has to do more to stop the violence."

But the White House spokesman made clear the Saudi initiative is encouraging. He said it shows Palestinians and Israelis that other countries in the region are committed to peace.

"There have just been so many negative notes coming out of the Middle East recently and at least in this statement by the crown prince it was a note of hope," he said.

The European Union also sees some hope in the Saudi ideas. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will make a hastily arranged trip to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to discuss the peace initiative.