JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held talks with Saudi King Abdullah in Jeddah at the start of a regional tour, the official SPA agency reported.
Following her arrival in the western city of Jeddah, Rice discussed “developments in the region, firstly the Palestinian question and the situation in Lebanon as well as in Iraq”, SPA said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was also present for the talks amid hopes of restarting the stalled Middle East peace process.
A Saudi official said Iran’s controversial nuclear programme was also discussed, with the issue set to dominate Rice’s tour.
Washington believes Tehran is trying to obtain a nuclear bomb, while Iran insists it only wants to pursue its right to nuclear power.
US efforts to haul Iran in front of the UN Security Council for its decision not to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment have so far been thwarted by fellow permanent members Russia and China, even as talks with the European Union continue.
The five permanent UN Security Council members — China, France, Russia, Britain and the United States — plus Germany, have offered Iran both economic and diplomatic incentives, including a pledge not to slap sanctions on the country, to persuade Tehran to drop its nuclear activities.
So far Iran has vowed to continue its uranium enrichment programme.
Riyadh “considers it necessary to continue the dialogue with a view to a peaceful agreement” over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which was also of concern to other Arab countries in the region, a Saudi source said Monday.
Washington needs the support of its Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states, which are also concerned about Iran’s nuclear drive.
As Rice landed in Jeddah, a senior US official in Washington said US diplomats have made “good progress” in gaining allies’ approval for a list of sanctions to be imposed on Iran if it fails to freeze uranium enrichment.
“Saudi leaders will appeal to Ms. Rice to relaunch the Middle East peace process and to firm up George W. Bush’s vision of two states, Israeli and Palestinian,” the source said Monday.
Rice is to hold a news conference with Faisal on Tuesday morning before heading to Egypt. She is also to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories as part of the trip.
In Cairo, she is to have a meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the six monarchies that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar.
Commenting on this meeting en route to the Middle East, the secretary of state said the United States was depending on the grouping of moderate Arab allies in order to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
In Israel and the Palestinian territories, Rice will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, as well as Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
Her arrival in the region comes after violent clashes between supporters of Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas, the Islamist movement that has led the Palestinian government since coming to power earlier this year.