The Washington Times - April 27, 2009, 02:02PM

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said Sunday evening that if President Obama devotes himself to Middle East peace he will be able to overcome the obstacles presented by a new hardline Israeli government.

Prince Turki, aware that new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he will not accept the Arab Peace Initiative, said that if Obama puts the full weight of the U.S. presidency behind an effort to forge an agreement, he could do it.

“Although it may matter a little what Netanyahu thinks, it matters more what Obama thinks,” Prince Turki said.

Prince Turki praised Obama’s appointment of George Mitchell as special envoy to the peace process, and said it is “crucial” to have him based in the Middle East.

Prince Turki, the former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. who also ran his country’s intelligence services, and Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to President Gerald Ford and President George. H.W. Bush, both spoke to a dinner crowd of about 80 current and former government officials from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, businessmen and journalists.

Prince Turki also spoke Monday morning during a day long conference at The New America Foundation, titled “U.S.-Saudi Relations in a World Without Equilibrium,” which is live streaming through the afternoon on Steve Clemons’ “Washington Note” blog (Clemons also organized the dinner Sunday night).

Both Prince Turki and Scowcroft spent much of their time talking about the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the ongoing conflict along the Afghan/Pakistan border.

Both men knocked the Bush administration’s efforts at the end of President George W. Bush’s second term, though Scowcroft said that Bush’s secretary of state, Condi Rice, who is one of his proteges, made a good effort.

Prince Turki said that the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, launched by Saudi King Abdullah (then the country’s crown prince), should have been “joyfully” reached out for by the Bush administration, “but has been for the last eight years ignored by the Americans and the Israelis.”

Scowcroft said that Bush himself “did not engage his personal strength” in the push over the last year of his presidency, which included the Annapolis Conference in the fall of 2007.

“He went through the motions,” Scowcroft said.

But, Scowcroft said that the idea of a two-state solution is the “core issue” in the region and “has the potential to change the psychological atmosphere” in the Middle East.

The Arab League’s proposal would create an independent Palestinian state, require Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders, and allow the Palestinians to have their capital in east Jerusalem, as well as allow for Palestinian refugees to be resettled.

In return, the 22 Arab League countries (Iran is not a member) would recognize Israel as a legitimate sovereign nation – which most of them currently do not – and sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state.

— Jon Ward, White House reporter, The Washington Times


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