Saudi Arabia Rejects U.S. Call for Ties With Israel

Saudi FM: Israel not serious about peace negotiations; confidence-building steps won't resolve conflict.

Saudi Arabia on Friday accused Israel of not being serious about peace with the Palestinians and rejected U.S. pleas to improve ties with Israel as a way of jump-starting regional peace talks.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said the "incremental" approach used by the United States to get talks rolling would not work and core issues must be tackled.

"Temporary security and confidence-building measures will also not bring peace. What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome and launches into negotiations over final-status issues," he said at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

By final-status issues, Saud was referring to matters such as resolving the borders of a future Palestinian state, the fate of refugees, water disputes and the future of Jerusalem.

In blunt language, the Saudi minister said Israel was shifting attention from those core issues by focusing on Jewish settlement building on Palestinian territory.

"Israel must decide if it wants real peace, which is at hand, or if it wants to continue obfuscating and, as a result, lead the region into a maelstrom of instability and violence," Saud said.

U.S. President Barack Obama, Clinton and special envoy to the region George Mitchell all have been urging Arab nations to improve ties with Israel with confidence-building measures such as opening trade offices, allowing academic exchanges and permitting civilian Israeli aircraft to overfly their airspace as a way of demonstrating their commitment to peace.

Clinton repeated that call in her remarks, saying the Obama administration wants "the Arab states, including our friends in Saudi Arabia, to work with us to take steps to improve relations with Israel, to support the Palestinian Authority and to prepare their people to embrace the eventual peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis."

"Saudi Arabia's continued leadership is absolutely vital to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace," she said.

But Saud flatly rejected such steps. He maintained that Israel was trying to distract the world from a Saudi-proposed Arab-Israel peace deal in which Arab states would recognize Israel provided it withdraws from Arab territory seized in the 1967 war.

"The question is not what the Arab world will offer," Saud said. "The question really is: What will Israel give in exchange for this comprehensive offer?"

"Israel hasn't even responded to an American request to halt settlements, which President Obama described as illegitimate," he said.

Saud said Israel was being asked to give back land that "never belonged to it in the first place."

Asked whether the Saudi minister's strong views complicated U.S. peacemaking efforts or if she saw them as a setback, Clinton said: "No, I don't think so."

She said the U.S. aim was to get agreement from the parties to begin negotiations with the intention of resolving all the issues in a "comprehensive way."

"We know that this is all in the process that has to be undertaken and we are looking forward to seeing the parties sitting down at the negotiating table supported not only by the United States, but by other nations led by Saudi Arabia," Clinton said.

Mitchell has sought to get confidence-building measures on all sides in a bid to revive talks stalled after Israel's invasion into Gaza last December in response to rocket attacks by Gaza militants.

Clinton said Mitchell, who just returned from his fifth trip to the region, was making progress and developing a formula to get the two sides talking again.

"We feel like we're making headway and we are determined to do so in as short a period of time as possible," she said.