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Saudi Plan for Mideast Peace Gains EU Support - 2002-02-27

The European Union's top foreign policy chief was in Saudi Arabia Wednesday to discuss a Saudi initiative for peace in the Mideast.

Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy adviser, met with Saudi officials in the Red Sea city of Jeddah to discuss a Saudi plan for peace between Israel and Palestinians.

Mr. Solana did not speak to reporters after the meeting, but a spokeswoman for the EU official said Crown Prince Abdullah, the leader of Saudi Arabia, told Mr. Solana he was going to "work to present" the initiative to the Arab summit in March.

A Saudi official said that Saudi Arabia expects the European Union to play a bigger role in the Middle East peace process in light of Wednesday's talks.

Under the plan, which was first proposed by the Saudi leader in an interview last week, Arab countries would normalize relations with Israel if Israel agrees to return the land it captured in the 1967 war.

The Saudi proposal is gaining support in the Arab world and Israel's foreign ministry has also spoken positively about it. But analysts in the region are skeptical that the plan, which has also been welcomed by Western officials, will win final approval from Israel.

Hassan Nafae, chairman of the department of political science at Cairo University, says the land for peace idea has been around a long time and has never gained Israeli approval. "I never heard any Israeli official stating clearly that Israel is ready to withdraw if the Arab countries are ready to normalize relations with Israel, so what is the point? Israel is emphasizing the question of normalization as if it were the real obstacle in the road of making peace in this region of the world, forgetting the real obstacle is the Israeli refusal to withdraw to the 1967 borders," he said.

After the talks in Jeddah, Mr. Solana flew to Cairo for further talks about the plan. Two senior Palestinian officials, including top negotiator Saeb Erakat, also arrived in Cairo Wednesday for talks on the Saudi initiative.