A senior U.S. delegation headed by CIA Director George Tenet has returned from a lightning visit to Saudi Arabia and talks with the Arab country's de-facto ruler, Crown Prince Abdullah, on his Middle East peace overture. The Bush administration welcomes the Saudi initiative but stresses it is not in itself a plan for ending Israeli-Palestinian violence.
The fact that Mr. Tenet and Assistant Secretary of State William Burns made the exhausting trip to Saudi Arabia and back in little more than two days underlines the degree of U.S. interest in the Saudi overture.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. team had good and useful discussions with Crown Prince Abdullah in Jiddah and that the dialogue will continue. But he cautioned that the ideas floated by the Crown Prince are not a blueprint for Middle East peace, nor do they offer a solution to the current Israel-Palestinian violence.
"It's not a peace plan or a specific proposal to end the violence, it's an Arab state's vision of normalization in the context of a negotiated peace," said Mr. Boucher. "It serves as a promise for a better life for all the region, should the parties find a way to end violence and once again resume their negotiations. But the next steps, as we've always said, mean maximum efforts by the Palestinian Authority to confront violence and terror, and steps by the Israeli government to facilitate Palestinian efforts on security and help promote a more positive environment on the ground."
In New York Times interview comments two weeks ago, Crown Prince Abdullah proposed Arab-wide normalization of relations with Israel if it fully withdrew from territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war including East Jerusalem.
The offer, later carried by the official Saudi media, has been welcomed by the Palestinians and several moderate Arab governments as well as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the European Union and the United States.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, however, earlier this week spoke of the need to "flesh out" the Saudi formulation, which he described as being "easily said" but a "very difficult concept to get total agreement on."
Meanwhile, the on-going Israeli-Palestinian fighting in the Jenin and Balata refugee camps in the West Bank continues to occupy the attention of administration officials.
Spokesman Boucher said the United States had been in touch with the Israeli government to again appeal for "utmost restraint" in its incursions into the camps the first of their kind since the Palestinian Authority assumed control of the areas several years ago.
Mr. Boucher said while the administration respects Israel's right to self-defense, it believes it is extremely important that every possible effort be made by Israeli forces to avoid harm to civilians.