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Bush-Saudi talks reassure Arab nations of US resolve

Eight-point peace proposal from Crown Prince comes with a warning about US favoritism toward Israel.

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The visit by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to President Bush's Texas ranch this past weekend places the ball of Middle East peace back where Mr. Bush has never wanted it – in the US court.

The broad lines of a Mideast peace are now clear – two states, Israel and Palestine, existing side by side – with the key regional and international players on board. But the way the Bush administration responds to some new Saudi ideas it was clearly mulling over following Abdullah's visit will indicate how far the US is willing to advocate specifics.

It will also demonstrate how dedicated the administration is to sticking with the game to win the elusive peace accord.

Following the crown prince's visit, officials from moderate Arab countries say they are reassured that the US under Bush – reluctantly or not – is in the peace game for good. An Arab diplomat close to the talks says they're encouraged, too, that American leadership is behind the calling of a reported meeting of officials from the US, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations for Madrid on May 2. The conference will set out where the peace process goes next, he said.

Crown Prince Abdullah, the Saudi kingdom's de facto leader, came to the US last week with what might be called an Arab version of the carrot and the stick. The stick was an admonition that the American tilt in favor of Israel and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is perceived in the Arab world to be so strong that both US relations with the region and the region's stability are threatened.

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