CAIRO, (Reuters) – The Arab League group charged with following up on peace with Israel agreed on Friday to attend a U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace conference, and Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister indicated he would attend. “The Arab peace follow-up group has decided to accept the invitation to attend the Annapolis Middle East peace conference at a ministerial level to discuss the peace process,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference.
Later asked if Saudi Arabia would attend the Annapolis, Maryland talks on a ministerial level, Faisal nodded his head. “As long as there is an Arab consensus to attend, and at the ministerial level, then the Kingdom will follow the attendance and the Arab consensus in this context,” he added at the close of talks of foreign ministers from the Arab League group to follow up on a 2002 Arab peace initiative.
Washington hopes the Annapolis meeting will launch talks to end six decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Saudi participation on Nov. 27 could bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s ability to reach an agreement and help Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sell it to Israelis, by holding out the prospect of wider peace with the Arab world. “We are before a historic opportunity. We want to raise our voice loudly. … We are hoping that we will be together at the conference discussing all tracks, the Palestinian-Israeli track, the Syrian-Israeli track and the Lebanese track,” Abbas told journalists during a break from the meeting.
Syria, which has been invited to the talks, has said it will only take part if the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967, is on the agenda. The invitation called for comprehensive Middle East peace but did not mention the Golan Heights, diplomats said.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem told journalists that Arab countries had sent a letter on Thursday to Washington requesting the inclusion of the Syrian and Lebanese tracks in the Annapolis talks and were waiting for a reply.
The United States has invited about 40 countries to the talks. Egypt, a major U.S. ally and one of only two Arab states to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, has offered support for next week’s meeting despite initial reservations.
It remains unclear how far the peace conference will go to tackle the core issues — borders, security, settlements, the status of Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees — that have defeated previous efforts to end the conflict.
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have been struggling to hammer out a joint document before the conference that would address core issues in general terms, and Egypt said it was unclear whether a document would be ready by Tuesday.