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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 08:44 GMT 09:44 UK
Analysis: Mid-East package diplomacy
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Funeral in Iraq
The catastrophe of Iraq is top of a crowded Middle East agenda
Diplomatic momentum has been building in the Middle East to try to solve some of the region's most intractable problems together, as a kind of four-part package deal.

It is an ambitious plan to tackle four burning issues simultaneously:

  • Preventing Iraq from collapsing into violent anarchy
  • Creating a power-sharing Palestinian government
  • Reviving an Arab-Israeli peace plan
  • Breaking the political deadlock in Lebanon

Does it all sound too good to be true? The package is still a work in progress, but some of its elements are already in place.

One is last month's Mecca agreement to end the violent clashes between the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah.

Brokered by the Saudis, the agreement is designed to bring about a Palestinian government of national unity, something the two factions finalised on 15 March.

Rescue plan

A second step was the Baghdad conference on 10 March.

This was an attempt to get regional and international players to work together to prevent Iraq's descent into all-out civil war.

A follow-up conference is due to take place in Istanbul in April.

A third step is the revival of a Saudi initiative - originally agreed at an Arab summit in Beirut in 2002 and re-endorsed at the Riyadh summit on 28 March - to resolve the Arab-Israeli problem.

Derided by Israel at the time, the plan is now being guardedly welcomed by the current Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert.

Missing piece

At the moment, the fourth piece of the package is conspicuously missing.

Intense efforts to end the political deadlock in Lebanon have so far failed.

Syria is widely believed to have blocked a Saudi-Iranian initiative to reconcile Lebanon's Shia-led opposition and its Sunni-led government.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan
Prince Bandar has played an lead role in Saudi diplomacy
It wants to stop the government endorsing an international tribunal to try suspects implicated in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Many Lebanese believe Syria was behind the killing, something it strongly denies.

But Syria has the ability to help or hinder efforts to solve the region's pressing problems.

This explains the recent visit to Damascus by the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, ending a two-year freeze on high-level EU contacts.

Arabia's Kissinger

If the package comes together, it will be a sign that the Arab states have been jolted into getting their act together.

It will be a success for Saudi diplomacy, and in particular for the national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

A veteran trouble-shooter, the prince has been shuttling around the globe like an Arab Kissinger.

It will also be a sign that Arab leaders, even those closest to Washington, no longer have much faith in a Pax Americana.

Worried by what they see as the Bush administration's failings, and the new regional power of Iran, they are struggling to take their destiny into their own hands.






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