Arab participation to be decided Friday

Key Arab governments will announce Friday if they will attend a US-backed Mideast peace conference aimed at relaunching the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, said an Arab League official Sunday.“The Arab position will be determined at the [Friday’s] meeting,” said Hesham Yusef, a senior aide to the League’s Secretary-General Amr Musa.

Foreign ministers of twelve Arab countries and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are due to meet at the headquarters of the Arab League here to forge an Arab strategy on the conference, expected in Annapolis, Maryland.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have been sceptical over the conference and senior officials of the two regional heavyweights have hinted that they may even not attend the gathering expected later this month. Yusef also said Abbas will brief the participants on his ongoing contacts with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert aimed at finalising a draft statement on the conference.

Yusef did not give further details but Arab diplomats said the ministers will insist that a final statement by the Annapolis meeting will include an Israeli agreement to a Saudi-sponsored land-for-peace deal proposed by Arabs in 2002.

Friday’s meeting, part of a Mideast diplomatic flurry of activity, will be chaired by Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al Faisal who is expected to make an announcement on the Arab position after the one-day discussions.

Arab states have expressed reservations about the usefulness meeting if it does not address the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian and broader Arab-Israeli conflicts.

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