Solana: Sharon Willing to Discuss Peace Proposal With Saudis

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European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Tuesday after talks with Ariel Sharon that the prime minister was interested in the Saudi peace initiative and was prepared to discuss it with Saudi officials.

Sharon "considers it an interesting idea and he would like to know more about the content and he would be ready to meet anybody from Saudi Arabia, formally, informally, publicly, discreetly, whatever, to get better information about this initiative," Solana told reporters.

Abdullah told The New York Times earlier this month that he had considered offering Israel normalization with the entire Arab world if it withdrew from all territory occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War, including the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

The EU foreign policy chief will make an unscheduled trip to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah after the Palestinians and some Israeli officials responded positively to the Saudi ruler's new peace plan, an EU official said Tuesday.

"This (the trip to Saudi Arabia) comes after he (Solana) got very positive responses from the Palestinians and some Israeli officials," said Cristina Gallach, a Solana spokeswoman.

Abdullah's peace proposal is a vision and not a blueprint for borders between Israel and the Arabs, his policy adviser said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

"We are not in the real estate or zoning business," Adel al-Jubeir said. "It's really up to Israel, the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria to negotiate, because it's their land."

"The idea," the Saudi official said, "is to send a signal to the Israeli public that peace is possible."

White House calls Saudi plan 'helpful' U.S. President George Bush telephoned Crown Prince Abdullah on Tuesday in wake of the Saudi proposal that the White House called "helpful."

The Palestinians and moderate Arabs have welcomed the Saudi idea, and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said it was an important step he hoped would be fleshed out in the next few weeks.

In their conversation, President Bush expressed U.S. hopes of working along with the Saudi kingdom "in the pursuit of Middle East peace," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

"The president wants the parties in the Middle East to know ... there are other nations in the region that are committed to peace," Fleischer said. "When they come out with ideas that support a peace plan, he hopes that is helpful."

Fleischer also said that the president considers it a key to nudging Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon back to peace negotiations.

Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said Tuesday that Moscow also backed the Saudi initiative and left open the possibility of an independent Russian initiative. "If the development of the Middle East situation requires that, Russia is ready to take independent steps," he said.

Saudis reject Israel visits, warn against ousting ArafatNo official Saudi-Israeli visits will be held to discuss a recently floated land-for-peace proposal until an Arab-Israeli settlement is reached, according to a Saudi newspaper editorial Tuesday.

An Al-Watan editorial marked the first Saudi reaction to an Israeli offer for official visits between both Middle East nations in the wake of the Saudi proposal.

Abdullah was quoted as saying he had readied a speech for the March Arab summit meeting with the offer but had changed his mind because he blamed Sharon for the upsurge in violence.

On Monday, President Moshe Katsav informally invited Abdullah to Jerusalem to detail his proposal. He also said he would visit Riyadh if invited.

"An exchange of visits - if it takes place - will only occur to solidify agreements that had been signed and not at the start of an initiative that the Israelis have yet to take a clear and specific stand on," the state-controlled Al-Watan said.

The daily said an Arab League leaders summit in Beirut, Lebanon, scheduled for March 27-29 will be the "first and final authority to decide the fate of this initiative, especially because it concerns all Arab countries which must give its approval before it moves forward."

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