Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal this week reacted coolly after President Shimon Peres praised on the Arab peace initiative as a "serious opening for real progress," during a United Nations-hosted interfaith meeting in New York.

"The disappointing side of President Peres' comment is that he chose parts of the Arab peace plan and left other parts untouched," Faisal told reporters on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Iran's UN envoy on Thursday accused Israel of abusing the Saudi-sponsored UN interfaith conference for political purposes and suggested it had no right to take part.

Speaking on the second day of the meeting, which earlier heard U.S. President George W. Bush call for worldwide religious freedom, Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee did not name Israel but left no doubt what country he had in mind.

"The representative of a regime [whose] short history is marked with ... aggression, occupation, assassination, state terrorism, and torture against the Palestinian people, under the pretext of a false interpretation of a divine religion, has tried to abuse this meeting for its narrow political purposes," he said.

Khazaee was referring to Peres, who took the rare opportunity of being in the same room as Saudi King Abdullah on Wednesday to praise a Saudi peace initiative that he said had brought hope to the Middle East.

"The participation of such a regime not only has no benefit to our common purpose, but, as proved in this very meeting, will give them a chance to try to disrupt the current process divert our attention from our mandate" to improve dialogue between different religions, Khazaee said.

Iran believes the Jewish state has no right to exist and opposes peace talks. Israel considers Iran an existential threat and, together with the United States and other countries, accuses it of developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charge.

Khazaee's speech stood out at the two-day meeting of the UN General Assembly, convened at the request of the Saudi monarch, not only because of its accusatory language but because it failed to praise Abdullah.

Earlier, Bush proclaimed religious freedom as the foundation of a healthy society and defended the U.S. record in protecting Muslims caught up in foreign conflicts.

Religious freedom

The UN meeting, attended by leaders and diplomats from some 70 countries, was opened by King Abdullah, who on Wednesday denounced terrorism as the enemy of all religions.

Bush, a devout Methodist who said faith had sustained him through his presidency, which ends in January, praised Abdullah's initiative but also implicitly criticized countries that restrict religious practice. Saudi Arabia forbids public non-Muslim worship.

Noting that the United States had been founded by people fleeing religious persecution, Bush said that "Freedom is God's gift to every man, woman, and child - and that freedom includes the right of all people to worship as they see fit."

He was speaking a short way from the site of New York's former World Trade Center, destroyed in 2001 by planes piloted by Islamist al Qaeda militants. Some Muslim critics have called his subsequent "war on terror" a crusade against Islam.

"Our nation has helped defend the religious liberty of others, from liberating the [World War Two] concentration camps of Europe to protecting Muslims in places like Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq," said Bush.

"Religious freedom is the foundation of a healthy and hopeful society. We're not afraid to stand with religious dissidents and believers who practice their faith even where it is unwelcome."

German minister of state Hermann Groehe defended the right to convert to another faith -- a right not recognized in some Muslim countries -- and called it unacceptable some countries threatened those who want to convert with the death penalty.