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Bush seeks Saudi role over Mideast peace, Iran issue
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US President George W. Bush is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia as part of his 8-day Mideast tour, which analysts said to be part of US Middle East strategy seeking Riyadh's greater role in bringing peace to the region and containing growing Iranian threats.


President Bush attaches special attention to his tour in Saudi Arabia and is set to discuss a series of issues including the Middle East peace process and bilateral relations with Saudi leaders during his stay in the kingdom, said the analysts.


Bush started his Mideast regional tour on Wednesday noon when he arrived in Israel for the first time since he took office in 2000, aimed at advancing the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in the wake of the U.S.-host Annapolis peace conference in November last year.


At the Annapolis conference, Israel and the Palestinians had pledged to strive for a final-status agreement before the end of 2008. But talks between the two sides have been low-key with no tangible progress.


As Bush was summarizing the first stage of his regional visit on Thursday night, he told a press conference that a peace accord will require "painful political concessions" by both sides, urging that the occupation of the Palestinian territories must be ended.


Resolving the status of Jerusalem will be tough, but a peace agreement is within reach early next year by the end of his presidency, he said, adding that disputed territory must be mutually negotiated, referring to Israeli settlements built on disputed lands that Israel wants to keep when an independent Palestinian state is formed.


Nonetheless, President Bush's statements did not manage to create emotional reactions among the residents of Jerusalem who thought that a peace agreement is not within the capacity of both sides to be attained.


Some 200 right-wing Israeli demonstrators gathered at the center of the city for a protest prayer.


"The struggles for the other settlements will be ten-fold what there was in Amona. It is good to die for our country," said SOS Israel chairman Rabbi Shlomo Dovber Wolpo, reverberating the reputed last words of the Zionist activist Joseph Trumpeldor.

Meanwhile, supporters of different factions of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) took to Gaza main streets on Jan. 9, chanting slogans against Bush and asking him "to stop being biased."


A Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip on Saturday warned Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of making concessions for the benefit of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people's rights. "The Palestinian (National) Authority (PNA) is used to make concessions and is used to be shaky in front of the U.S. orders," Khalil al-Haia, a Hamas lawmaker, told reporters in the Hamas-run Gaza.


Political observers held that the U.S. leader may boost peace talks by pushing Israel to fulfill commitments such as removing "illegal" settlements in the Palestinian occupied territories and easing restrictions on Palestinians' travel, but he still wishes to see more involvement of neighboring countries, especially the regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to push the peace process forward.


On the other hand, President Bush is also supposed to discuss the role Saudi Arabia could play towards Iran, Lebanon and Iraq,the three theatres where anti-U.S. sentiments are clearly demonstrated and for their proximity to the oil resources which are exposed to dangers if not wisely dealt with.


The U.S. is seriously concerned with the developments in Lebanon, especially after the summer war of 2006 between Hezbollah and Israeli forces and its negative impact on the Israeli side. His eyes are on Syria, whom he blames for the political stalemate preventing Lebanese parties from choosing a new president, saying Damascus was "thwarting the will of the Lebanese people."


The observers held that Bush's visit to the gulf region has special importance for a variety of reasons, saying it also aims at containing, what he believes, the Iranian threats against the neighboring Gulf States, particularly in light of the U.S. long-standing standoff with Iranian nuclear program.


U.S. policy-makers vehemently believe that Iran, strategically situated in the oil-rich region, has to have its weapons, whether conventional or missiles, deprived to secure the smooth oil flow to the industrialized countries.


The visit comes to herald U.S. fears on the Iranian bona fides threats against Israel, its closet ally in the region where President Bush earlier told reporters that he was coming to the region to rally support of "friendly" countries and shore up a coalition against Iran.


Strategists even see Bush visit as a rehearsal of a military action against Iran, should it continue to show enmity to the U.S. and its allies.


There are also other observers who see the tour as Bush's last effort to correct the image of the "superpower" being shaken by "failures" it sustained in Iraq, Afghanistan and, to some extent, Lebanon.


No matter what's the real purposes or how many purposes for Bush to launch this Mideast tour, seeking supports from regional powers or allies like Saudi Arabia and Egypt is Washington's strategic target.


However, the pro-government daily Al-Riyadh on Saturday ruled out any attempt by the United States to use Saudi Arabia, the oil-rich kingdom as a launch pad for a possible war on Iran over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.


"We refuse to be used to launch wars or tensions with Iran," said the paper, adding "this issue can be solved through diplomatic means and through dialogue."


(Xinhua News Agency January 14, 2008)

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