saudi king abdullah.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Both Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and a senior Saudi government official denied in interviews with The Jerusalem Post on Monday reports that Olmert met recently with a senior member of the Saudi family, perhaps even the Saudi king himself.
Olmert characterized the reports as "speculation, imagination, things that are beyond the limits."
Nevertheless, he did praise the Saudis for the positive role they have played in the region recently. "When you examine their performance over the last couple of months, you see something that you haven't seen in the past," Olmert said. "More sense of responsibility, and a greater degree of readiness to stand up and speak up against Shi'ite extremists like Hizbullah."
Olmert said it was no small thing that Saudi Arabia spoke out in the early days of the war against Hizbullah. "They stood up publicly against Muslims and criticized their actions and entirely disagreed with how they handled themselves," he said. "This is not insignificant. This is a very important sign. And I think they are very much opposed to Syria and the statements that were made by the Syrian president, and I think they have also signaled their opposition to Iran."
Although the prime minister said he would like to see the Saudis go further in their public criticism of Iran, he said he understood the constraints they faced. "I think this is an interesting phenomenon that has to be noted, carefully and sensitively," he said.
The Saudis, however, were quick to reject the rhetorical embrace. A senior Saudi government official flatly denied the reports of a secret meeting.
"The information is completely incorrect," Hisham al-Niali, deputy director of the Saudi Foreign Ministry's information department, told the Post by phone from Riyadh. "There was no meeting, not at all. And we have already issued a statement to the press about this," he said.
Niali was referring to a report in Yediot Aharonot that quoted anonymous Israeli officials as saying that Olmert secretly met with Saudi King Abdullah 10 days ago, and others who hinted the talks were actually with a senior official close to the king. However, none of the officials would say where the meeting was held or describe the exact content of the talks.
A previous report, which also appeared in Yediot, said Israel and Saudi Arabia had been holding secret discussions since fighting broke out in July between Israel and Hizbullah, due to Saudi Arabia's realization that Iran - which backs Hizbullah - was capable of destabilizing the Middle East.
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Over the weekend, Saudi officials took pains to deny that any such meetings had taken place.
Osama Nuqli, a spokesman for the Saudi Foreign Ministry, told the London-based Asharq al-Awsat newspaper on Saturday that his country did not have any contacts with Israel.
Nuqli said Saudi policy was guided by "transparency," and that "its moves and diplomatic and political efforts are publicized and well-known," adding that there were no "secret" contacts with Israel.
Asked by the Post what he thought lay behind the recent spate of reports on Saudi-Israeli contacts, Niali laughed and said, "I don't know. I really do not know. They are not true."
Nevertheless, government officials in Jerusalem pointed out that of late, Saudi Arabia has played a constructive role on each of the three main foreign policy questions facing Israel: the Iranian nuclear issue, Lebanon, and events inside the Palestinian Authority.
According to the officials, Saudi Arabia - which feels threatened by the specter of a nuclear Iran - is of the opinion that everything necessary must be done to keep Teheran from acquiring a nuclear capability.
Furthermore, Riyadh, according to these sources, was supportive in passing UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to the fighting in Lebanon, and has also put "the weight of the kingdom on the side of the moderates inside the Palestinian Authority."â€¢