Saudi king meets Baker, promises active role in securing regional peace WAR IN THE GULF

March 09, 1991|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Sun Staff Correspondent

RIYADH, SAUDIA ARABIA — RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III drew a commitment from King Fahd last night for Saudi Arabia to play an active role in the Arab-Israeli peace process and overall regional security, State Department officials said.

Mr. Baker and the king met for an hour with just a couple of aides to trade ideas on how to develop cooperation between Israel and Arab states and how to settle the Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Baker's meetings here were the first in a 10-day series of delicate consultations in the Mideast, seeking to build on the victory over Iraq to achieve stability in the volatile region.

3' Officials refused to provide specif

ics on the results of the meetings and said no actual decisions were reached.

But officials said the Saudis made it "very clear" that they were committed to playing an active role in the Arab-Israeli peace process, Persian Gulf security, regional arms control and economic cooperation.

They realized that there was a relationship among all four areas ++ in improving stability, an official said.

This bolder stance marks a big change from the Saudi role before the gulf crisis of working behind the scenes and avoiding any action outside an Arab consensus.

The Saudis have said that the Palestinian problem tops the postwar agenda, but were receptive to Mr. Baker's idea of simultaneously moving to end the state of war between Israel and her Arab neighbors, officials said.

The Saudis remain bitter toward King Hussein of Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat because both supported Iraq during the gulf war.

U.S. officials and the Saudis seem to be exploring the potential for new Palestinian leadership, either within the PLO or outside it, that could be acceptable to Israel.

Officials said the Americans and Saudis discussed the United Nations' role in postwar security but offered no specifics on a U.N. peacekeeping force.

They also sensed no "deceleration" in Saudi commitment to improve the overall economy of the region despite the financial strains brought by the gulf war.

In a discussion on Iraq's postwar turmoil, the Saudis held to their view that Saddam Hussein should be toppled, officials indicated.

The talks here came as Israel, resisting international pressure to trade land for peace with the Palestinians, has floated the idea of restarting the earlier Yitzhak Shamir plan to grant limited autonomy to the Palestinians.

Israeli officials also said yesterday that Mr. Shamir would respond favorably if the United States suggested a "regional" peace conference..

Israel has consistently rejected the idea of the United States, Soviet Union and other powers holding a conference on the Mideast, believing that the international meeting would be stacked against Israel.

A U.S. official traveling with Mr. Baker said the Israelis had raised the idea of a regional conference before.

Mr. Baker met with the king in a green and paneled chamber deep inside the vast Yamamah royal palace.

Earlier yesterday, Mr. Baker met for an hour with Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who told reporters later that the United States aims to "get the American forces out as fast as we possibly can."

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