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IN THE NEWS - Arab Leaders Urge Israel to Accept 2002 Plan for Peace and a Palestinian State

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah speaks at the opening of the Arab summit in Riyadh
Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah speaks at the opening of the Arab summit in Riyadh

Arab leaders met this week in Riyadh. The Arab League Summit in the Saudi capital ended with calls for Israel to accept an Arab peace plan from two thousand two.

That plan offers Israel normal relations with the Arab world if it withdraws from land captured during the nineteen sixty-seven Arab-Israeli war. The plan also calls for Israel to reach a settlement with the Palestinians on the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel.

Israel rejected the peace plan in two thousand two. But more recently, Israeli officials have said the plan could be a starting point for negotiations. As the Arab League meetings closed, Israel's Foreign Ministry said it would be willing to hold talks with some Arab nations. However, Israel objects to a demand that Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homes in what is now Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the Palestinian people were truly extending the hand of peace toward Israel. The Palestinians have a new unity government. Israel says it will not deal with that government unless it agrees to reject violence, recognize Israel and respect existing peace agreements.

But earlier in the week, Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to begin meeting every two weeks. That agreement came as American Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice completed a three-day trip to the Middle East. She said the talks should lead to discussions on a political settlement. But top Israeli officials say that for now, any talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders will involve humanitarian issues.

The two-day summit in Riyadh opened with a speech by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. He said Arab League states are more divided now than they have ever been. He also described Iraq as being under an illegal foreign occupation.

That comment caught the State Department in Washington by surprise. A spokesman said the United States was operating in Iraq under United Nations resolutions and with the invitation of the Iraqi government. The United States looks to Saudi Arabia as an important ally in the Middle East. American officials said they would seek to better understand what exactly King Abdullah meant by his statement.

State Department officials, however, welcomed the Arab League's decision to renew its two thousand two Middle East peace plan.

On Thursday, in their final declaration, the Arab leaders warned of the dangers of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. But they also said that all countries have the right to peaceful nuclear energy programs.

Gulf Arab nations generally share American and European concerns about the Iranian nuclear program. Iran is led by Shiite Muslims; the Gulf Arab nations bordering Iran are mostly led by Sunnis.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. Transcripts and audio archives of our reports can be found at www.unsv.com. I'm Steve Ember.

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