Saudi king urges US to press Israel for Mideast peace deal

March 21st, 2008 - 11:41 pm ICT by admin  

Riyadh, March 21 (DPA) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia Friday urged visiting US Vice President Dick Cheney to put pressure on Israel to seal a peace deal with the Palestinians before US President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009, official sources said. Cheney, on a 10-day regional tour, arrived Friday in Saudi Arabia where he met Abdullah at the king’s al-Janadriya horse farm near Riyadh.

The sources said Saudi Arabia is not happy with the “slow” pace of US efforts to push the Middle East peace process by putting pressure on Israel to reach a peace agreement and end the building of settlements and excavations around al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Abdullah and Cheney also discussed Iran’s nuclear programme and its growing regional influence. The king confirmed his opposition to any US military strike or such threat against Iran, the sources said.

Saudi Arabia, along with other Gulf Arab countries, sees negotiations as the best way to ease tension between the US and Iran.

Abdullah also told Cheney that the Middle East should be free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. The Saudis say any nuclear non-proliferation efforts should include Israel, which many in the Arab world suspect has a secret nuclear programme.

The situation in Iraq was also discussed.

The US wants Saudi Arabia to step up formal ties with the Iraqis by sending an ambassador to Baghdad and encouraging visits by ministers and officials.

Washington wants to see its Arab allies, such as Riyadh and Cairo, upgrade ties with Baghdad as a way of containing Iran’s fledgling influence in Iraq, according to US and Arab officials.

Saudi diplomats visited Baghdad at the end of last year to explore the possibility of opening an embassy there.

Washington and Riyadh disagree over the Iraqi government led by Shia Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, with Saudis saying al-Maliki is not doing enough to promote reconciliation between the country’s Shia and Sunni Arabs and is giving Iran a chance to deepen its foothold in Iraq.

The political standoff in Lebanon, resulting from the failure of its parliament to elect a president, was also discussed at the talks. The Saudis are key players in Lebanon with financial muscle and political influence on some factions there.

Spiralling oil prices were on the agenda in the talks, with both countries agreeing on restoring the balance in oil markets.

The US has called for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to increase the output to curb spiralling prices, but OPEC, of which Saudi Arabia is the biggest producer, has refused to heed the calls.

Cheney has asked the king to press the organization for an output increase to ease pressures on the US economy, according to sources at the US embassy in Riyadh.

Abdullah presented Cheney with the country’s highest honour.

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