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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 November 2007, 00:53 GMT
US welcomes Saudi summit pledge
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo
Prince Saud (L) and Mahmoud Abbas will both attend the summit
US officials have welcomed the decision by Saudi Arabia to attend next week's Middle East peace conference at Annapolis in the US.

"This is a signal that they believe this will be a serious and substantive meeting," the US state department said.

Speaking at an Arab League meeting in Cairo, the Saudi foreign minister said he would go but ruled out a "theatrical show" with Israeli officials.

Syria has yet to decide whether to go, but Egypt and Jordan will be there.

The US has actively sought a strong Arab presence to bolster the conference and said it was please at the outcome of the Arab League meeting.

"We welcome the decision by the Arab League follow-on committee to attend the Annapolis conference at the ministerial level," said State Department spokesman Karl Duckworth.


Prince Saud confirmed his attendance but admitted there had been opposition.

"I'm not hiding any secret about the Saudi position. We were reluctant until today. And if not for the Arab consensus we felt today, we would not have decided to go," he said.

"But... as long as the Arab position has agreed on attending, the kingdom will walk along with its brothers in one line."

Prince Saud said he was "not prepared to take part in a theatrical show, in handshakes and meetings that don't express political positions".

Saudi Arabia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and has been pressing for Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians ahead of the talks.

The Saudis have proposed a Middle East peace plan, endorsed by the Arab League, which offers Israel recognition by all Arab states if it leaves occupied Palestinian land.

Golan question

Syria has still to announce whether it will attend. But on Friday Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said his government had been given assurances by the US that Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights would be on the Annapolis agenda, as Syria had demanded.

A US state department spokesman declined to confirm this.

The focus of the agenda would be the Israeli-Palestinian issue and issues surrounding that, he added, but nations would be able bring up specific issues if they wanted to.

The BBC's Heba Saleh in Cairo says Arabs remain deeply sceptical about Israel's willingness to make concessions for a peace agreement.

But she says they seem to have decided that even a flawed peace conference is preferable to the paralysis of the past seven years.

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