See also Saudis Leave Rice Stranded

[TIME] Scott MacLeod - The Arab League summit that concluded in Riyadh Thursday re-affirmed the body's peace offer to Israel, but it hardly suggested the sort of "bold outreach" to the Jewish state for which U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been lobbying. Indeed, the summit appeared to reveal a yawning gap between the outlooks of the U.S. and its key Arab ally, summit-host Saudi Arabia. Rice seemed to be expressing the hope that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, who she praised as the author of the 2002 Arab initiative, would authorize direct Saudi-Israeli talks. Plainly, however, the U.S. and the Saudis are not exactly in lockstep, and the distance between them is widening by the day as American credibility in the Middle East nosedives as a result of the U.S. failure in Iraq. The Saudi-U.S. differences are highlighted by the summit's endorsement of the Mecca Agreement under which Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas agreed to establish a national unity government to end Palestinian infighting. In contrast to the continued U.S. insistence that Hamas be boycotted, the Saudis believe that peace negotiations can only succeed if Hamas can be drawn into the process. Saudi Arabia's increasingly public divergence from U.S. positions is a comparatively new development - until fairly recently, Abdullah appeared willing to support Bush as much as possible. But the message out of the Riyadh summit is that the Saudis, along with the other Arab states, have concluded that Washington's policies are neither wise, effective, or in long-term Arab interests. In his summit speech, Abdullah called the U.S. military involvement in Iraq an "illegitimate foreign occupation," and demanded an end to the "unjust" American-led embargo on the Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority. All of this amounted to a sharp debunking of Rice's suggestion that Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies form a new moderate bloc to confront Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hizballah.

2007-03-30 01:00:00

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