June 28, 2010 / 2:28 PM / 9 years ago

Saudi king seeks Obama action on Mideast peace

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will press U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington this week to take a stronger stance with Israel over stalled peace talks with the Palestinians, analysts and diplomats said.

U.S. President Barack Obama and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah wave during a group photo at the G20 Summit in Toronto, Ontario, June 27, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Dharapak/Pool

The Saudi monarch will meet Obama on Tuesday after attending a G20 summit in Canada in the latest summit in the seven decades-old relationship between Washington and the world’s top oil exporter and a key regional ally.

The Saudis say Obama has not put enough pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to impose a total freeze on Jewish settlements on occupied Arab land, an obstacle to the resumption of peace talks. Netanyahu meets Obama on July 6.

“The king wants to have from Obama the assurance that he is going to solve the (Middle East peace) issue,” said Khaled Al-Maeena, editor of the Saudi daily Arab News and a member of the king’s delegation.

In a landmark speech in Cairo last year, Obama promised to turn a new page with the Islamic world after the United States’ image took a battering due to the previous administration’s invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and solid backing for Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.

“I think it’s time for the Saudis and all Arabs to tell the Americans that the situation cannot go on forever with the so-called peace process,” said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi political analyst.

Last year Obama revived a long-standing U.S. request for Saudi Arabia to make gestures towards normalising relations with Israel as an incentive to the Jewish state to take up serious negotiations over establishing a Palestinian state.

But Saudi Arabia said it would not make concessions beyond the 2002 Arab peace plan originated by King Abdullah, which offers Israel recognition in return for returning occupied territories and allowing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“There remains a Saudi view that if the U.S. really pushed the Israelis, that is what would be necessary to get a peace deal,” said Jon Alterman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

TURKISH ROLE

Yet, Turkey’s emergence as a champion of Palestinians — engaging in diplomatic tussles with Israel over its war on the Gaza Strip in December 2009 and blockade of the territory — has created pressure on Arab leaders to do more themselves.

“The Saudis are unhappy about this,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, an analyst at risk consultancy Political Capital.

Egypt eased flow of goods through its border crossings into the Gaza Strip after Israeli troops stormed a flotilla trying to break Israel’s blockade in bringing aid, killing nine Turks.

Riyadh’s Western allies have watched with alarm as Turkey has grown closer to Tehran. Along with Brazil, Turkey brokered a deal with Iran on uranium enrichment in a failed effort to stave of new sanctions.

Riyadh is already troubled by Shi’ite power Iran’s role in the region since Shi’ite Muslims rose to prominence in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.

Riyadh fears Iran wants to become a nuclear weapons power and King Abdullah has complained publicly about Tehran rallying Arab hardliners around the Palestinian cause.

Diplomats and analysts say Iran will be high on the agenda of the talks in Washington, which will be Abdullah’s third long meeting with a young president with little experience of the absolute monarchy.

Riyadh says publicly it does not want to see a regional conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme, which this year led to a new round of United Nations sanctions. The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action to stop Iran, which says it only wants nuclear power to generate electricity.

“They do not favour military action because they realise how devastating it will be,” said Dakhil.

Analysts have suggested Saudi Arabia’s increased oil sales to China this year made it easier for Beijing to back the U.N. sanctions against Iran. Arab leaders often request U.S. action on the Palestinian front in return for support on other issues.

Simon Henderson at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy said Obama might try to convince the Saudis to step up oil production to help bring prices down to encourage global recovery. Lower oil would also hit Iranian revenues.

The United States has in the past relied on Saudi Arabia, with over a fifth of global oil reserves, to play a moderating role in the OPEC against price hawks, but OPEC and Saudi ability to control oil prices is not what it used to be.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington)

Editing by Samia Nakhoul

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