Blair in Riyadh after Bush issues Annapolis invite

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RIYADH, Nov 21 (Reuters) West Asia peace envoy Tony Blair will hold talks in Riyadh with King Abdullah centred on a US drive to persuade Arabs to attend a conference next week on Israeli-Palestinian peace, government sources said today.

US President George W Bush spoke to the Saudi monarch by telephone yesterday to invite him formally to attend the summit at Annapolis, Maryland on Nov. 27. Blair arrived in the Saudi capital today from Egypt.

Israel has said it will release Palestinian prisoners and halt some settlement building in Palestinian territories seized by Israel in 1967 as part of the effort to get Arabs, particularly Saudi Arabia, to turn up.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal has said the kingdom will attend if there is an agenda that deals clearly with core issues involved in setting up a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Blair, the former British prime minister, is the diplomatic liaison between the 'Quartet' of peace players -- United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations -- and Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries.

Saudi media said he was met at Riyadh airport by intelligence chief Prince Mugrin bin Abdul-Aziz, and a government source said he would have talks with King Abdullah. Blair came from Egypt where he met President Hosni Mubarak.

''He was in Cairo with Mubarak ... he is trying to pull together a better picture from the Quartet's perspective of who's going to be in attendance,'' a European diplomat said.

''Whether it will have an impact on the Saudi position is debatable,'' he added.

Western diplomats say any change in the Saudi position could emerge after Arab foreign ministers meet in Cairo on Friday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit has said he will attend the Annapolis meeting.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and the world's biggest oil exporter, has no diplomatic relations with Israel and even turning up at Annapolis could be seen as a major concession in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Arab and Western diplomats say Riyadh may decide at the last minute to send its foreign minister, but is more likely to send low-level representatives.

REUTERS RSA KN2202

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