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Arab Ministers Promote Saudi Plan

May 18, 2002

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BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Arab foreign ministers resolved Saturday to press ahead with a Saudi peace initiative even though they consider the peace process damaged by Israel’s five-week offensive on the West Bank.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said in his opening statement that the recent Israeli actions ``not only present obstacles for the Arab peace initiative, but also raise questions about the usefulness of continuing the peace endeavor in the short term.″

After the meeting, Hammoud said ministers now are promoting the initiative through contacts with the United States, European Union, Russia, the United Nations and Islamic countries.

``Our preoccupation and concern (during the meeting) was to uphold the initiative as a package,″ Hammoud said.

The initiative proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah offers Israel diplomatic and commercial relations with the Arab world in exchange for full withdrawal from territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

The initiative was adopted as an official Arab League position.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said ministers almost have agreed on a ``road map″ to advance the initiative, but he did not elaborate.

Moussa said Friday that any future negotiations with Israel should be based on the initiative, which calls for establishing a Palestinian state with a capital in east Jerusalem and finding a ``just solution″ for Palestinian refugees.

The ministers’ meeting was the first since a March 27-28 Beirut summit mandated Arab countries and the Palestinian Authority to pursue the initiative.

The next day, Israel invaded the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank, threatening the initiative and prompting diplomatic attempts by the United States and the European Union to secure an Israeli withdrawal.

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