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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Saudis Seek Military Deterent to Israel

RIYADH // Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said yesterday the “dangerous policies” of Israel’s new right-wing government required firm international action, particularly from the United States, to “prompt Israel” to reverse course.

Prince Saud al Faisal also said the seven-year-old Arab peace plan, so far mostly ignored by Israel, only remained relevant if Israel responded. The British foreign secretary, David Miliband, joined his Saudi host in calling for Israel and the Palestinians to return to the peace process.

Both sides, Mr Miliband said, must abide by their predecessors’ commitments. For Israel, that meant a freeze in settlements in the occupied West Bank, and for Palestinians, it meant security guarantees for Israel.

The two officials displayed unity on other regional issues, including Iran’s nuclear programme, recent violence in Iraq and the instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr Miliband, addressing the latter, said both countries “believe strongly that there needs to be social and economic development at the heart of the Afghan and Pakistan political reconciliation. There will not be a military solution in those countries”. The Afghan government “should lead a process of reconciliation with all those willing to live within the constitution of Afghanistan and above all live by the principle of non-violence”.

Mr Miliband and Prince Saud lamented the surge in violence in Iraq, where suicide bombers have killed scores of civilians in recent days. On Iran’s nuclear programme, Prince Saud said he “welcomes the positive direction of the US government in its desire to address the [problem] diplomatically through dialogue”. He added that Saudi Arabia believed the “only solution” to the threat posed by the Iranian programme was to rid the region of all weapons of mass destruction, including those held by Israel.

Mr Miliband also praised the “new American approach”. Iran’s “nuclear proliferation programme … is a threat to the whole international community and it’s very important that there is maximum possible unity behind the new American approach [with its] potential to bring greater stability to the region”.For Saudi Arabia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of great concern and hugely frustrating, partly because its closest western ally, the US, has for many years tolerated Israeli foot-dragging in the peace process.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government is one of the most right-wing in Israeli history. His foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said this week the international community “should not stand over us with a stopwatch in hand” nor interfere in Israeli government policies. “We have never interfered in the affairs of others and we expect from others that they not interfere in ours,” said Mr Lieberman, who has called for Israel’s Arab citizens to take loyalty oaths or lose citizenship.

Prince Saud said “negative remarks” by officials in the new Israeli government and their failure to accept the commitments of prior governments were putting “the peace process back to square one”. He urged the international community, particularly the US, to get Israel to abide by those commitments. Earlier, the prince said in prepared remarks before a gathering of British and Saudi officials: “It is clear that Israel, which has until now frustrated all peace efforts, whose new government has declared dangerous policies, cannot be expected to automatically change its stand.

“This requires a solid and firm international action, especially on the part of the United States, to prompt Israel to change its policies.”Asked later how long the Saudi-sponsored Arab peace initiative would remain on the table, Prince Saud said it would be Israel that removed it by failing to respond to it. “If it continues to be disregarded by Israel, [then] it is Israel that is taking the proposal off the table and not the Arab countries. So having it on the table is only relevant if it receives a response from Israel.”

The plan, endorsed by the Arab League, offers Israel full diplomatic recognition in return for withdrawal to its 1967 borders and an independent Palestinian state.

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