Peres, Livni at UN for interfaith forum

Despite president's efforts, no meetings with Arab representatives planned during three-day parley.

peres ban ki moon ridiculous smile 248 (photo credit: GPO)
peres ban ki moon ridiculous smile 248
(photo credit: GPO)
President Shimon Peres is slated to speak Wednesday before world leaders - including the Saudi king - gathered in New York for a UN summit on interfaith cooperation. Israeli diplomats, hoping to revive a Saudi-backed plan for regional peace, have made a strong show of support for the interfaith meeting, organized under UN auspices at the request of King Abdullah after he and Spanish King Juan Carlos hosted a roundtable for political and religious leaders in Madrid last July. Officials told The Jerusalem Post that, on the sidelines, Peres is reaching out to Arab delegations in hopes of holding bilateral talks during the three-day parley, officially billed as an event to promote a "culture of peace." No meetings with any Arab leaders had been agreed to by Tuesday afternoon, a mission spokeswoman told the Post. Peres was to meet with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday evening before a dinner reception for all attendees, including leaders from Lebanon, Qatar and Bahrain. He is scheduled to speak after Abdullah opens the meeting, and will be followed by Lebanese and Palestinian leaders. US President George W. Bush is slated to address the gathering on Thursday. Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who will arrive Wednesday in her capacity as foreign minister, was scheduled to meet with outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, former US president Bill Clinton, and members of the American Jewish community. A spokesman for Livni said she has also not scheduled any meetings with Arab delegations. He told the Post that, despite interest in the Saudi peace plan, the only peace process formally recognized by Israel is the Annapolis process, which provides for any final agreement to be struck between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The Saudi proposal would offer normalization of Arab relations with Israel in exchange for withdrawal to pre-1967 borders and offers a "just resolution" to the question of Palestinian refugees. The Arab League amended the proposal to allow for the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. Peres has said he does not back the entire proposal but has expressed hope that the Saudis could kick-start negotiations that would lead to a comprehensive peace. The UN meeting, which Israeli officials say marks the first time Saudi Arabia has welcomed them, even indirectly, has sparked a backlash in the Arab world, where editorialists have asked why political leaders should be discussing faith issues at all. On Monday, a Hizbullah spokesman was quoted in the London-based Arabic daily Al-Quds al-Arabi as saying the conference was a cover for backchannel negotiations with Israel. Israel was not invited to participate in the previous Saudi effort, though rabbis attended the Madrid session.