US-Saudi talks pledge Mideast ties

US president and Saudi monarch stress importance of a two-state solution.

    Obama said he and King Abdullah found "common ground" regarding Middle East peace [AFP]

    Obama said that aside from Middle East peace the two leaders' talks had also covered ongoing troubles in Afghanistan and Pakistan, efforts to combat extremism and Iran's alleged attempts to obtain nuclear weapons.

    The president also praised what he called the United States' strong, strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which holds considerable leverage in the Middle East.

    Obama's talks with the Saudi king come a week before Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, is due to visit Washington.

    Statehood

    Analysts say the Saudis want Obama to step up pressure on the Israeli leader over stalled peace talks with the Palestinians and on freezing Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land.

    Netanyahu began indirect talks with the Palestinians in May but has imposed strict conditions for accepting their demands for statehood.

    Nonetheless Obama gave an upbeat assessment when he met Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas earlier this month, saying he believed progress was possible before the end of the year although so far his efforts to push the peace process forward have yielded few results.

    The Saudi-US talks on Tuesday followed a warning earlier in the day from Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, that problems with the talks, and divisions among the Palestinians, would mean no Palestinian state would be founded by 2012.

    Lieberman's statement was an apparent reference to a call by the so-called Middle East Quartet - the US, European Union, United Nations and Russia - for an accord to be reached by that time.

    US relations with Israel continue to be tense, particularly after the deadly Israeli commando raid on the Gaza aid flotilla last month.

    In the wake of the attack Israel has since announced that it will loosen the blockade around Gaza, allowing so-called "civilian" goods into the Strip.

    Obama, who pushed for such a step, may try to use the Israeli move as a spur to intensify US-brokered indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians, as he seeks to open a direct channel of dialogue between the two sides.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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