Saudi says West Asia peace meet must set timetable

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JEDDAH, Sep 12 (Reuters) US-allied Saudi Arabia today said that a US-sponsored West Asia peace conference would be pointless unless it addressed key issues such as the fate of Jerusalem, and set a timetable to implement any deal.

''If this conference does not tackle the key issues -- Jerusalem, the borders, the Palestinians and other issues that were clearly stated in the Arab peace initiative -- then the conference will be pointless,'' Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told a news conference in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

''If a timetable is not set then we will enter endless negotiations... Responsibilities must be reciprocal and not on one side only, and Israel must prove its seriousness through action on the ground.'' Saudi Arabia has been trying to bolster its role as a West Asia peace broker and took the lead this year in relaunching an Arab peace proposal at an Arab summit in Riyadh.

That initiative, first launched in 2002, offers Israel peace and normal relations with all Arab states in return for its withdrawal from the territories it occupied in the 1967 war and a just settlement for Palestinian refugees.

Saudi King Abdullah received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday, a day after Abbas agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to create teams to tackle Palestinian statehood issues ahead of the conference.

But Israel cautioned against expecting any rapid progress in the run-up to the meeting expected to take place in November in the Washington area.

Israeli officials today said that Olmert was resisting pressure from Palestinians to set a strict timetable for implementing any statehood principles agreed at the conference.

It was not clear if Saudi Arabia would attend the conference itself and Prince Saud said he had not seen the agenda.

But Saudi Arabia, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel, along with the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt comprise an Arab quartet established this year to promote the Arab peace initiative.

REUTERS SG BD1720

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