Final status issues

Al-Faisal said that Israel must adhere to what is stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative, which has been endorsed by the 22-member Arb League, in order for it to have a constructive relationship with Saudi Arabia.

"What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset and launches into negotiations over final status issues"

Prince Saud al-Faisal,
Saudi foreign minister

"What is required is a comprehensive approach that defines the final outcome at the outset and launches into negotiations over final status issues," he said.

Those final status issues include marking the borders of a future Palestinian state, control of the city of Jerusalem, the right of return of Palestinian refugees, security and water rights.

Barack Obama, the US president, Clinton and George Mitchell, the Middle East peace envoy, have all called on Arab states to build relations with Israel.

Measures such as opening trade offices, allowing academic exchanges and permitting civilian Israeli aircraft to overfly their airspace have been touted by Washington as a way for Arab nations to show they are committed to peace in the region.

The Obama administration wants "the Arab states, including our friends in Saudi Arabia, to work with us to take steps to improve relations with Israel, to support the Palestinian Authority and to prepare their people to embrace the eventual peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Clinton said after talks with al-Faisal.

"Saudi Arabia's continued leadership is absolutely vital to achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace," she said.

Dramatic geture'

Her remarks about the importance of Saudi Arabia to the process were supported by more than 200 US politicians who urged King Abdullah, the Saudi ruler, to push Middle East peace efforts forward with "a dramatic gesture".

"We have been disappointed thus far to see the public reaction of your government to President Obama's request," they wrote in a letter to the monarch.

"We urge you to assert a strong leadership role and help lead the Middle East to a new era of peace and reconciliation by stepping forward with a dramatic gesture toward Israel akin to the steps taken earlier by the leaders of Egypt and Jordan."

Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab nations which have diplomatic relations with Israel.

But al-Faisal said Israel was ignoring the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal in which Arab states would formally recognise Israel in return of its withdrawal from Arab territories occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

"The question really is: 'What will Israel give in exchange for this comprehensive settlement offer'?" he said.

"Israel hasn't even responded to an American request to halt settlements [in the Israeli occupied West Bank], which President Obama described as illegitimate," he said.