Obama hails Saudi King's courageous peace move

Posted in Broader Middle East | 29-Jan-09 | Source: Gulf in the Media

Saudi King Abdullah attends the Arab economic summit in Kuwait January 19, 2009.

US President Barack Obama has praised the Arab peace initiative, which was originally proposed by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah. Its aim is to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the US leader said it was a courageous move from the Saudi king.

"I might not agree with every aspect of the proposal, but it took great courage," the president said speaking to Al-Arabiya satellite channel on Tuesday, in his first interview since his inauguration as president on Jan. 20. "To put forward something that is as significant as that, I think there are ideas across the region of how we might pursue peace," Obama said about the initiative, which was passed by the Arab League summit in Beirut in 2002 and relaunched in 2007.

The proposal envisages Arab recognition of Israel in return for an Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital and the return of Palestinian refugees.

"Arab states will (I) consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region, and (II) establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace," the text of the Arab initiative said.

King Abdullah told the Arab economic summit in Kuwait last week that Israel must respond quickly to the initiative and that it would not remain on the table forever.

"Israel must understand that the choice between war and peace will not always remain open and that the Arab peace initiative that is on the table today will not remain there indefinitely," the king told the summit attended by Arab leaders including Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

In his Al-Arabiya interview, Obama said the time was ripe for Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. "I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it's time to return to the negotiating table," Obama said.

Obama said his administration wanted to begin by listening and talking to those involved without prejudging their concerns. "We cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what is best for them... They are going to have to make some decisions." Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal hailed Obama's desire "to have a strong and fruitful relationship with the Arab world" and said the president's stance was a "positive development" in Washington's policy toward the Middle East.

Prince Saud said a resolution of the Middle East conflict would "automatically contribute to the resolution of other regional crises." He said Arab nations were ready to discuss with the Obama administration the Saudi-initiated peace plan. "Arab states... have no reservations about holding a fruitful dialogue to respond to any questions posed by the American administration about the peace plan," the prince told Al-Arabiya.