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Page last updated at 11:04 GMT, Wednesday, 27 May 2009 12:04 UK

Obama adds Saudi Arabia to Mid-East agenda

Obama in Maryland, 26 May
President Obama added the Saudi stop to a trip to Egypt and Europe

US President Barack Obama's foreign tour next week will include a stop-off in Saudi Arabia, his spokesman said in a late addition to the schedule.

Robert Gibbs said Mr Obama would hold talks with King Abdullah in Riyadh on 3 June to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace moves, Iran and terrorism.

Some analysts say the US administration is considering adopting a modified Arab peace plan proposed by the Saudis.

The inclusion of Saudi Arabia "was not born of anything specific", Gibbs said.

Apart from a brief stop-off in Iraq in April, the visit will be Mr Obama's first foray into the Middle East cauldron, though he has been busily engaged with regional diplomacy in the White House.

He has hosted Jordan's King Abdullah and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is due to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday.

Tuesday was meant to be President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt's day at the White House, but the meeting was cancelled following the tragic death of Mr Mubarak's 12-year-old grandson last week.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit and intelligence chief Omar Suleiman made the trip instead, meeting US national security adviser James Jones on Tuesday.

Mr Obama will also travel to Cairo next week to give a major policy speech addressed to the Muslim world, before visiting Germany and France for the 65th anniversary of D-Day.

Diplomatic pressure

Separately, Mr Netanyahu has called off a scheduled trip to Paris and Rome next week because of "technical reasons" and a need to work on the budget.

He is expected to reschedule the trip within the coming weeks, a senior official was quoted as saying.

Illegal Israeli outpost in the West Bank
There are about 100 makeshift Jewish outposts in the West Bank

Israeli radio quoted sources close to Mr Netanyahu who said there was no truth to the contention that the European visits were postponed to avoid further diplomatic pressure on Israel.

Last week, France denounced Mr Netanyahu's statement that Jerusalem would remain Israel's undivided capital forever and he has been criticised for refusing to publicly endorse the idea of a Palestinian state.

European diplomats quoted by the Israeli Haaretz newspaper say the decision may reflect a desire to show some sort of diplomatic progress before the tour.

Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities have been acting to dismantle unauthorised Jewish settlements in the West Bank - moving against two settlement outposts in the early hours of Wednesday.

Such action is an obligation under the "road map" peace plan , although Israel is reported to be offering a counterproposal that the squatter camps be removed in exchange for US backing for settlement expansion.

Just solution

The West Bank was occupied by Israel in the 1967 war and all efforts to plant Israeli population centres there contravenes international law, although Israel disputes this.

The 2002 Arab peace initiative has been embraced by the Obama administration, although Washington may be seeking amendments, correspondents say.

The Saudi-authored document offers Israel normal ties with all Arab states in return for a full withdrawal from the lands occupied in 1967, creation of a Palestinian state and a "just solution" for Palestinian refugees.

Mr Netanyahu has proposed immediate negotiations but backed away from questions of Palestinian independence or permanent deals over land withdrawals.

On 11 May, King Abdullah of Jordan said the US was working on a "57-state solution" including the 57-member Organisation of The Islamic Conference to recognise Israel in return for a halt in construction and expansion of settlements, and its agreement to withdraw from land seized in 1967.



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