Saudi foreign minister says he will attend Annapolis conference

Al-Faisal says Arab countries would attend parley at level of foreign minister; Syrian participation still not finalized.

Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Friday he that would attend next week's US-sponsored Middle East peace conference but insisted he would not allow "theatrics" like handshakes with Israeli officials, saying the gathering must make serious progress. Participation by Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal was a key goal of the United States to show strong Arab support for the conference in Annapolis, Maryland, which is to re-launch Israeli-Palestinian peace talks for the first time in seven years. Until Friday, the kingdom had balked at saying whether it would attend and at what level, seeking assurances Israel would negotiate the most difficult issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict in negotiations governed by a timetable. Still unclear, however, was whether Syria would send its foreign minister. Syria has insisted Annapolis must address its demands for the return of the Golan Heights. Al-Faisal told a press conference that an Arab League meeting Friday had decided that Arab countries would attend Annapolis at the level of foreign minister. "I'm not hiding any secret about the Saudi position. We were reluctant until today. And if not for the Arab consensus we felt today, we would not have decided to go," al-Faisal said. "But the kingdom would never stand against an Arab consensus, as long as the Arab position has agreed on attending, the kingdom will walk along with its brothers in one line." But he cautioned, "We are not prepared to take part in a theatrical show, in handshakes and meeting that don't express political positions. We are going with seriousness and we work on the same seriousness and credibility." Asked if Syria would attend as well, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa said "Syria's foreign minister was present" when the league session Friday decided on consensus to participate. But he said there were "still arrangements to be made." Saudi Arabia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, has feared that the conference would become little more than a photo op, cornering it into high-profile public contacts with Israel without a guarantee of concessions from the Jewish state.