Saudi-US Talks Focus on ME, Iran

M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan, Arab News

RIYADH, 18 January 2006 — Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Arab world’s two leading powers, yesterday urged US Vice President Dick Cheney to give negotiations more time in the growing diplomatic conflict over Iran’s nuclear program, officials close to Cheney’s talks in Riyadh and Cairo said.

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah held wide-ranging talks with Cheney at his ranch outside Riyadh on major regional and international issues including the situation in both Iraq and Palestine and the growing tension between Syria and Lebanon.

King Abdullah reportedly stressed “the need for giving negotiations a chance” before pressing for Iran’s referral to the UN Security Council, the Associated Press reported, quoting officials close to the talks in Riyadh.

“The talks covered the subject of Syrian-Lebanese tension and the Saudi-Egyptian efforts to ward off an escalation of the situation in the region,” the AFP news agency reported, quoting unnamed sources.

The two men agreed on “the need for Syria to cooperate with the UN probe (into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri) in keeping with UN Security Council resolutions and on the importance of safeguarding security in the region,” a Saudi official said, requesting anonymity.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak also expressed the same opinion of Saudis on the Iran issue during talks with Cheney. “Cairo would wait and see whether there will be consensus” in regards to dealing with Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog. “We call for Iran to show more flexibility and cooperation, and we call for a continuation of dialogue with Iran,” Egyptian presidential spokesman Suleiman Awad said.

He declared that Egypt could not ignore its longstanding position “which refuses to put all this fuss and focus on the Iranian nuclear program without looking at Israel’s nuclear arsenal. We cannot give support to a resolution unless it makes reference to the universality of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and unless it is free of double standards.”

During his talks with Cheney, King Abdullah stressed the need for Washington to help the Palestinian Authority and pursue its efforts to “implement the road map and achieve the US president’s (George W. Bush) vision about the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”

The Saudi official said King Abdullah voiced satisfaction at US efforts to “facilitate” the legislative elections in the Palestinian territories on Jan. 25.

The two leaders also reviewed “efforts and contacts under way at the Arab and local levels to ensure the success of the political process in Iraq,” the official said.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt are co-sponsors of an Iraqi reconciliation conference to be held in Baghdad in late February or early March. Saudi officials earlier said that cooperation in the fight against terrorism was also on the agenda.

Later in the afternoon, King Abdullah hosted a banquet lunch for the US vice president, which was attended by several members of the royal family, Saudi ministers and high-ranking Saudi and US officials. Prominent among those who attended the luncheon talks were Prince Miteb, minister of municipal and rural affairs, Prince Badr, deputy commander of the National Guard, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, foreign minister, Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi ambassador to the US and Prince Muqrin, chief of General Intelligence. Cheney later left Riyadh for Kuwait, to offer his condolences on the death of the country’s former ruler, Sheikh Jaber Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah.

Earlier, Cheney had discussed tensions between Syria and Lebanon with Mubarak in Cairo.

“We cannot say that today’s meeting brought about any solutions in this file, because it is not so simple, and any solution should be based on the implementation of Security Council resolutions,” Mubarak’s spokesman said.

Cheney and Mubarak discussed the health of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has been in a deep coma since suffering a massive brain hemorrhage on Jan. 4, the Egyptian spokesman said. They assessed the impact of Sharon’s ill-health on the Palestinian elections and the polls in Israel in March.