Thursday, Feb 28, 2002
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By Sridhar Krishnaswami
Mr. Bush telephoned the Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to convey his views on the plan. "The President praised the Crown Prince's ideas regarding the full Arab Israeli normalisation once a comprehensive peace agreement has been reached," the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said. The spokesman, however, called Prince Abdullah's proposals short of a breakthrough.
The Saudi plan has not been detailed but the Palestinians have welcomed the move. Israel, which has been quite wary of a return to the pre-1967 borders, has not said anything about the proposal. One media report said the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, considered the initiative an "interesting one". At this preliminary stage, it is not clear if the proposal also involves the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. "This is the first time we've heard any nation in the region talk about full normalisation between Arab nations and Israel at the end of the peace process. The President decided that he had to embrace the moment," an unnamed senior administration official was quoted as saying in The New York Times.
The Saudi plan comes at a time when there is increasing concern about the events in West Asia. It is feared that the spiralling violence in the region could get out of hand. The positive response of the Bush administration also comes at a difficult stage in U.S.-Saudi relations, which cooled a bit post-September 11. Washington was unhappy with Saudi Arabia for not doing enough to root out extremism and Saudi Arabia, for its part, was concerned about the war on terrorism extending beyond Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council debated the violence in West Asia. While pro-Palestinian members in the Council like Syria are pushing for a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Israel from Palestinian territories, the United States is against any Security Council action, stressing that the two parties to the conflict must work things out.
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