JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III received conflicting signals about a Middle East peace conference yesterday, as Saudi Arabia said it would not attend, Egypt announced its support and Israel postponed a decision on participating.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal confirmed Mr. Baker's prediction Saturday that the kingdom would not join in a peace conference because it should be limited to Israel and the Arab nations on the Jewish state's border.
"Participation in the meeting traditionally has been [limited to] the countries that are involved directly in the peace negotiations, which are Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Israel," Prince Saud told reporters at a meeting with Mr. Baker.
The Saudi decision to bow out of a conference comes as a surprise because until this weekend, U.S. officials have been saying they were counting on Saudi Arabia to play a major role in promoting peace between Israel and the Arabs.
Mr. Baker launched a diplomatic campaign in March to revive Mideast peace talks on the assumption that the Saudis would make overtures to Israel to show their gratitude for the U.S.-led military campaign against Iraq.
Mr. Baker, who is making his third visit to the Mideast in six weeks, is trying to broker an agreement between Israel and its neighbors on the format of a peace conference that would trigger direct negotiations on a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
According to government officials quoted by news media in Jerusalem, Mr. Baker left Israel after giving Mr. Shamir four questions about the format of a conference:
* Would Israel accept participation by the European Community and United Nations, and if so, under what conditions?
* Would Israel agree to sit at a conference with just Jordan and Egypt?
* Would Israel insist on having the right to veto the members chosen for a joint Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to a conference?
* Would Israel accept a separate Palestinian delegation with members from occupied territory but with "links" to East Jerusalem?