UNITED NATIONS // Saudi Arabia's request to address Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank at a high-level UN debate is unlikely to garner support, according to western diplomats. In a letter made public as the annual UN General Assembly opened, the kingdom called for "an urgent meeting of the Security Council be convened at the ministerial level to address ? Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian Territories".
Franco Frattini, the foreign minister of Italy, a Security Council member, said in an interview that members of the 15-nation body were not interested in "counterproductive discussion" that could derail the peace process. "The Security Council discussed the Saudi request ? but did not act on it," another western diplomat said. "I don't think we are going to take any action on this and don't anticipate it going anywhere."
The Saudi request for high-level talks coincided with the UN's annual summit in New York and the arrival in Manhattan of world leaders, including the US president, George W Bush, and Tony Blair, the Middle East peace envoy. It comes before tomorrow's meeting between members of the Middle East Quartet - the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations - to assess progress in reaching a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Saudi draft resolution is endorsed by the Arab League and was originally referred to the Security Council in June after Israel's housing minister announced plans to build 800 more homes in disputed East Jerusalem. The document condemns the recent acceleration of Israeli construction on Palestinian soil and demands that the Jewish state halts all future construction and dismantles settlements already built.
Despite a series of bilateral meetings with Security Council members, the draft resolution failed to gain enough support from the body's permanent members. The document was returned to league members for redrafting after Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said it lacked "balance" because it criticised Israel without placing obligations on Palestinians. It was revived following a strategy meeting of the GCC on Monday night, attended by foreign ministers of the six-nation club including the UAE's Abdullah bin Zayed and Saudi Arabia's Prince Saud Al Faisal.
After the meeting, the GCC secretary general, Abdulrahman al Atiyyah, said that getting the resolution back on the Security Council agenda was a "very important issue" for Gulf governments. Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, is expected to travel to New York this week to throw his weight behind the resolution, although western diplomats said it was unlikely the Saudis would get their request.
* The National