Riyadh wants to host 2007 Arab summit

CAIRO (AP) — Saudi Arabia has asked Arab leaders to convene their annual summit in the kingdom’s capital, reversing an earlier decision not to host it, the Arab League chief said Monday.

The Saudi decision seems to reflect the kingdom’s willingness to play a major role in regional politics amid mounting conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and the Gulf.

Amr Musa, the league’s secretary general, said he received a letter from the Saudi government saying the kingdom is now ready to host the summit in Riyadh.

“I will relay this to all the Arab governments,” he said.

Saudi Arabia’s envoy to the league, Ahmed Qatan, said King Abdullah decided to move the summit to Riyadh because of “the critical phase the area going through.” “The situation is grave, and if we do not act things, will be worse,” he told reporters after meeting Musa. He said the summit will be held on March 28.

Last year, the kingdom said it would not host the annual summit and asked Egypt to convene it in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh. Egypt and the Cairo-based Arab League have been preparing for the summit and drafting its agenda.

The abrupt Saudi decision came hours before US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Riyadh for talks with top Saudi officials on regional issues.

Arab diplomats said Saudi Arabia apparently wants to play a key role in reshaping strategies in a region fraught with crises. Some of the conflicts, such as the mounting sectarian strife in Iraq and the Iranian standoff with West, reflect badly on the kingdom’s stability, they said.

“The Saudis do not want to be on the sideline while the whole region is being remapped,” said one Arab League diplomat on condition of anonymity because he is not allowed to talk to the media. “By hosting the summit, they make their voice heard louder.” Rice is in the Middle East trying to sell US President George W. Bush’s new strategy in Iraq to key Arab nations and investigate ways of reviving the Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

While in Egypt on Monday, Rice announced she will bring together the Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the coming weeks for a summit dedicated to exploring ideas for an eventual Palestinian state.

Rice was scheduled to meet her counterparts from eight Arab countries in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Arab officials and media said Saudi Arabia and other moderate Arab governments plan to tell Rice that they will help Washington stabilise Iraq if America in turn takes more active steps to revive the deadlocked talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

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