From: Reuters
Published November 22, 2007 06:44 AM

Saudi dangles prospect of going to Annapolis

By Andrew Hammond

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has not ruled out the possibility of taking part in a Middle East peace conference with Israel next week, according to comments by Crown Prince Sultan carried by state television on Thursday.

"(Whether) the kingdom takes part will depend on a consideration of ongoing circumstances," al-Ikhbariya television quoted the crown prince as saying during a visit to Moscow.

It would be a diplomatic coup for the United States and Israel if Saudi Arabia was represented at the summit in Annapolis, Maryland, on November 27 by its royal foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal.

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Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the world's biggest oil exporter, has no diplomatic relations with Israel and even turning up could be seen as a major concession and strengthen anti-Western groups backed by Iran.

Saudi officials have said the kingdom will attend if there is an agenda that deals clearly with core issues involved in setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Arab and Western diplomats say that after a week of intense diplomacy and brinkmanship Riyadh may decide at the last minute to send its foreign minister, but is more likely to send low-level representatives.

They say any change in the Saudi position could emerge after Arab foreign ministers meet in Cairo on Friday.

U.S. President George W. Bush telephoned King Abdullah to formally invite him on Tuesday and Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair visited Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss the summit with the king and his foreign minister.

The United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan has also received an invitation from the United States to attend the Annapolis conference and Gulf sources said the UAE position should also emerge from the Arab meeting in Cairo.

"The media thinks the Arabs are looking for an excuse not to go, but they are in fact looking for an excuse to attend. They just need encouragement," said one Gulf source.

"They need to find out who will say what and this should happen in Cairo. They will go, but the question is under which arrangement?"

The United States has invited about 40 countries to the meeting which it hopes will launch negotiations to end the six-decade Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It was unclear how far the conference would go in tackling the core issues -- borders, security, settlements, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees -- that have defeated previous efforts to end the conflict.

(Reporting by Lin Noueihed)

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