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Saudi king set to lead rare interfaith talks in Spain

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Hastily organized in the past month, the conference is not expected to achieve breakthroughs in the wide array of mutual grievances roiling relations between the Islamic world and the West, ranging from cartoons regarded as blasphemous by Muslims, to restrictions on religious freedoms in some Islamic countries, to the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Its advertised agenda focuses on the importance of dialogue and "how to preserve morality," says Hassan Al Ahdal, media director at the Mecca-based Muslim World League, which is organizing the event.

"At this moment, we're not going to indulge in any political issues," he adds. "There are so many other things on which we can find common ground."

Rabbi David Rosen, who directs the American Jewish Committee's international interreligious affairs, wrote in an e-mail that he hopes the conference will be "an opportunity to break down ... stereotypes, suspicion, and bigotry."

He is "very much" pleased by his invitation, he added, though he would have liked to see official Israeli Jewish representatives also invited.

Who would represent the Jewish faith at the conference has been a matter of deep interest since Saudi Arabia, like most Arab countries, does not recognize Israel. Jewish organizations have welcomed Abdullah's call for interfaith dialogue while insisting that Israeli Jews be included.

The 200 invitees included vocal critics of Islam, notably the Rev. Franklin Graham, a conservative Evangelical who has called Islam an "evil and wicked" religion. He cannot attend because he is preparing for a trip to North Korea, a Graham spokesman said.

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