Saudi says Mideast 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 Arabia, which has no diplomatic ties with Israel, along with the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Egypt comprise an Arab quartet set up this year to promote the Arab initiative.

Prince Saud signalled that Saudi Arabia would not take part in the peace conference expected to be held in November but hinted that the Muslim kingdom would consider joining a meeting that aimed to end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.

''The kingdom does not see any benefit in any meeting ...

that is not comprehensive and if it does not remedy the key issues,'' he said. ''If the meeting does not offer these criteria I doubt the kingdom would take part.'' 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 set to be held in the Washington area.

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

Reuters SG GC1902

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