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Saudi summit pledges joint Arab approach

Saudi meet brings together Egypt, Syria and Kuwait

A four-way meeting of Arab leaders hosted by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah on Wednesday ended with a pledge for a uniform approach to Arab issues, but a joint statement did not mention Lebanon, addressing mainly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The meeting between King Abdullah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his Egyptian counterpart Hosni Mubarak and Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah al-ahmad al-Sabah, was taking place at a Riyadh air base, the state news agency SPA said.

"The leaders consider that the meeting heralds the start of a new phase in relations during which the four countries will seek to serve Arab issues through cooperation ... and serious and continuous action," according to the official communique issued after the meeting.

The four countries will also seek "an agreement on a uniform approach for Arab policies in confronting the fundamental issues, starting with the Palestinian issue," it added.

The brief statement noted that the mini-summit followed a call
from Saudi King Abdullah for inter-Arab reconciliation he made at an
Arab economic summit held in Kuwait City in January.

The leaders consider that the meeting heralds the start of a new phase in relations during which the four countries will seek to serve Arab issues through cooperation ... and serious and continuous action

Official communique

Thaw in ties

The encounter was designed to mark a thaw in frosty relations between Syria on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and Egypt on the other.

The Saudi kingdom, a regional powerhouse, called for the mini-summit in a bid to iron out Arab differences and present a united front at the Arab League summit set for March 29 and 30 in Qatar.

Assad's visit comes after years of strained ties over Damascus's close links with non-Arab Iran and its backing for radical Islamist movements such as the Palestinian group Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Saudis were also angered by Syria's alleged complicity in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri, a Saudi citizen. Syria has steadfastly denied it was involved in the murder.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal last week invited Assad to visit Saudi Arabia after meeting his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem, at an Arab foreign ministers' meeting in Egypt.

Prince Saud urged Arab ministers last week to find a consensus on how to deal with what he described as the Iranian challenge and Iranian interference in Arab affairs.

Riyadh also wants to shore up support for a 2002 Saudi-inspired Arab peace initiative which offers Israel full normalization of ties in return for an end to the occupation of Arab land it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Arab states were deeply angered by Israel's three-week war on the Gaza Strip at the start of the year, but differences over how to respond and how much to support Gaza's Hamas rulers caused a deep rift within their ranks.