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Obama to discuss Mideast peace.

Byline: Ghazanfar Ali Khan

RIYADH: Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah will hold wide-ranging talks with US President Barack Obama who begins his first Middle East trip today.

Obama is expected to seek Arab backing for his bid to revive the Middle East peace process and repair strained ties with the Muslim world. Riyadh, where a large number of Saudi and US flags have been put up along main roads to welcome the US president, will be the first leg of Obama's four-nation trip that will also take him to Egypt, Germany and France.

"The talks between King Abdullah and Obama are very important due to the distinguished status of Saudi Arabia on the regional and international levels, and also keeping in view the political and economic developments in the region and the world at large," said GCC Secretary-General Abdulrahman Al-Attiyah.

The agenda of his meeting with King Abdullah includes Middle East peace, energy and efforts to fight terrorism and extremism. President Obama has renewed his pledge to bring "the Middle East peace talks back on track." The pledge came yesterday in an interview with the BBC before Obama left the US for Saudi Arabia.

"What we want to do is to open a dialogue," said Obama, adding that there are misapprehensions on the part of the West about the Muslim world.

On Iran, he said he hopes for progress in contacts with the country this year. He also called for "a new realism in ties with Israel, as part of new dialogue between the US and the region as a whole."

Referring to US-GCC relations, Al-Attiyah said: "The six-nation GCC is an important strategic partner of Washington and has been playing vital roles on the regional and international levels."

In a statement, Al-Attiyah said the US president's trip is a chance for Washington to pressure Israel to abide by signed agreements and decisions made by the Mideast Quartet and accept the principle of two states as a basis for a comprehensive settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After working since January to revive its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, the Kingdom wants to confirm that Obama is willing - unlike former President George W. Bush - to put muscle into efforts toward a two-state peace pact between the Israelis and Palestinians, analysts said. The only thing that can move the Israelis is America, said Mansour Al-Mansour, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Riyadh, in a report published yesterday. "If the US is determined to do it, with a strong president, they can do it," he added.

The report quoted Saudi Foreign Ministry spokesman Osama Nugali as saying it is too early to become excited about a possible peace deal, given Netanyahu's defiance during his meeting with Obama last month in Washington. "What we have been seeing is negative statements coming out of Israel, which are of great concern," Nugali said. King Abdullah and Obama are also expected to address security issues, Saudi-Iraqi relations, Pakistan, oil prices and the fate of more than 200 remaining Guantanamo detainees.

The high points of the trip include a speech by Obama in Cairo that will discuss "how to bridge differences" and settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a visit to wounded Americans in Landstuhl, Germany.

Obama is expected to arrive in Riyadh today at around 12:50 p.m. Tomorrow, Obama will travel to Cairo where he will hold talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, deliver a major address at Cairo's Al-Azhar University and visit a mosque.

After becoming the first American president to use the word "Muslim" in an inaugural speech, Obama said in his first TV interview with Al Arabiya TV channel: "My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy." The US president, whose popularity in the Arab world has risen sharply, will proceed to Germany on Friday to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, visit the Buchenwald concentration camp and wounded US troops at Landstuhl.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:7SAUD
Date:Jun 3, 2009
Words:675
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