Arab diplomats skeptical of U.S. proposal
CAIRO, Egypt – The Arab League expressed reluctance Monday in backing a U.S.-proposed conference to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, saying any talks should cover all Arab-Israeli conflicts, including those involving Syria.League diplomats gathering in Cairo also stressed the importance of making an Arab peace-for-land initiative key to any talks.President Bush proposed the international gathering on July 16, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to discuss the matter with a group of Arab foreign ministers in Egypt on Tuesday during a tour of the region.Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallam, stayed away from the League meeting, and the Syrian envoy at the talks stormed out in protest on Monday.”I expressed my country’s reservation to formulating any kind of welcome to Bush’s initiative,” Syrian ambassador Youssef al-Ahmed told reporters.Syria has said it is willing to negotiate peace if Israel commits to restitution of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau it captured in the 1967 Mideast war.Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said Syria’s participation is essential to the success of the proposed conference.”What is required is to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Syria is part of this and has its land occupied,” Moussa said. “Naturally there should be a withdrawal from the Syrian land.”Moussa said the diplomats meeting with Rice will make it clear that Arabs want the conference to cover all outstanding problems with Israel, not just Palestinian issues.”If you want an international conference, these are our conditions,” he said.The League officials on Monday also said an Arab peace-for-land plan must be key to the proposed conference.The plan envisions full Arab recognition of Israel in return for its withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel has welcomed the idea as a basis for negotiations but says parts of it are unacceptable.Israel has welcomed Bush’s proposed conference, as has Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who now heads an emergency government based in the West Bank. The militant group Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel and is in control of the Gaza Strip, has rejected Bush’s offer.—Associated Press Reporter Maamoun Youssef contributed to this article in Cairo, Egypt.