‘Olmert met secretly with senior Saudi official’

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held a groundbreaking, secret meeting 10 days ago with a senior Saudi Arabian official, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reported Monday.

None of the anonymous Israel officials would say where the meeting was held, or report the exact content of the talks, the newspaper said. Generally speaking, the meeting focused on Iran’s nuclear programme and the need to achieve peace between Israel and the Palestinians, it said.

A senior government official told the Associated Press that Olmert did not meet with Saudi King Abdullah, but would not confirm or deny that Olmert met with another high-ranking Saudi. The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential.

Since Israel’s war against Iranian-backed fighters in Lebanon ended last month, the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan have been saying now is the time for a new push in peacemaking to prevent future conflicts.

“The prime minister was impressed by the moderate, positive stands that the Saudis expressed during the summer when Israel was fighting Hizbollah,” the Israeli official told The AP.

Saudi Arabia, which has no official diplomatic ties with Israel, has been trying to revive a sweeping regional peace initiative it presented in 2002. Israel rejected the plan at the time, but Olmert has indicated he might be more open to the Saudi programme than was his predecessor, Ariel Sharon.

A meeting between Olmert and a leading Saudi official would appear to represent the highest-level contacts ever between an Israeli leader and the Saudi royal house, the newspaper said.

Yediot quoted some unidentified Israeli officials as saying that Olmert met with King Abdullah, and others who hinted the talks were with a senior official close to the king.

Yediot first reported last week that the two countries had been holding secret talks since Israel’s war against Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon erupted in July. Saudi Arabia agreed to high-level talks because, like Israel, it is troubled by Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the newspaper said, without citing sources.

The peace initiative Saudi Arabia is trying to resuscitate calls for a full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war in exchange for normalisation and relations with all Arab countries.

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