Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques discusses with Karzai Afghanistan’s security, development, bilateral cooperation

Crown Prince Sultan sends message to Yemeni PM on next coordination council meeting

Washington asks Iran to respond officially to enrichment offer, 6 powers to meet soon

President Abbas receives fresh ideas on peace process

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and visiting President Hamid Karzai of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan held a meeting at the monarch's farm in Al-Janadriyah on the outskirts of the city of Riyadh this evening.

At the outset of the meeting, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques welcomed the Afghan President and the accompanying delegation, wishing them a good stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

For his part, President Karzai expressed thanks to and appreciation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques for the warm welcome and generous hospitality accorded to him and the accompanying delegation.

Then they discussed the international efforts being exerted to achieve security and stability in Afghanistan in addition to aspects of cooperation between the two countries.

During the meeting, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques decorated President Hamid Karzai of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan with King Abdulaziz Necklace, usually granted to senior leaders and presidents of sisterly and friendly countries For his part, President Karzai thanked the monarch for granting him this prestigious medal.

The meeting was attended by Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region; Prince Abdulaziz bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Assistant Chief of General Intelligence; and Dr. Fu'ad bin Abdulsalam Al-Farsi, Minister of Hajj.

On the Afghani side, the meeting was attended by Minister of Foreign Affairs Zalmai Rasoul and senior members of the accompanying delegation.

King Abdullah gave a dinner party at his farm in Al-Janadriyah on the outskirts of the city of Riyadh this evening in honor of visiting Afghan President Karzai and the accompanying delegation.

The banquet was attended by Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region; Prince Bandar bin Fahd bin Saad; Prince Faisal bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Saud, Minister of Education; Prince Dr. Mansour bin Mit'eb bin Abdulaziz, Minister of Municipal and Rural Affairs; Prince Mit'eb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Commander of the National Guard for Executive Affairs; Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz; Prince Ahmed bin Abdullah bin Abdulrahman, Governor of Al-Dareya Province; Prince Abdulaziz bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Assistant Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Saud bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Saud; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; Prince Mansour bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; Prince Dr. Bandar bin Salman bin Mohammed Al Saud, Advisor to the King; Prince Dr. Abdulaziz bin Sattam bin Abdulaziz; Prince Mansour bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz; Prince Bandar bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, ministers and senior civil and military officials.

Karzai and the accompanying delegation had visited Al-Madinah to perform Umrah (Minor Pilgrimage).

At King Abdulaziz International Airport, Karzai was received by Prince Mashaal bin Majid bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Jeddah; Azizullah Karzai, Afghan Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and a number of officials.

Karzai had arrived in Riyadh on Wednesday coming from Al-Madinah Al-Munawarah.

At King Khalid International Airport, he was received by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

Karzai was also received by Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region, and a number of ministers and senior officials.

The Afghan President is accompanied by a powerful delegation including Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, senior presidential advisors, ministers and officials.

Meanwhile, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, who is also Head of the Saudi side in the Saudi-Yemeni Coordination Council has sent a message to Dr. Ali Mohammed Mujawar, Prime Minister of the Republic of Yemen, who is also Head of the Yemeni side in the Coordinating Council, inviting him to attend the 19th Session of the Council which will be held in Riyadh in February 27, 2010.

The message was conveyed to Dr. Mujawar by the Saudi Ambassador to Yemen Ali bin Mohammed Al-Hamdan when received by the Yemeni Premier.

During the meeting, Dr. Mujawar expressed appreciation of the invitation of the Crown Prince, highlighting the vital role of the Saudi-Yemeni Coordinating Council in developing the bilateral relations between the two countries.

On the other hand, Iran said on Tuesday it was ready to send its uranium abroad for further enrichment as requested by the U.N.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the decision in an interview with state Iranian television. He said Iran will have "no problem" giving the West its low-enriched uranium and taking it back several months later when it is enriched by 20 per cent.

The decision could signal a major shift in the Iranian position on the issue.

Still, it was unclear how much of a concession the Ahmadinejad comments represented, even though he appeared to be saying for the first time that Iran was willing to ship out its enriched uranium and wait for it to be returned in the form of fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

But his time frame of four or five months appeared to fall short of the year that Western officials say it would take for Iran's enriched fuel to be turned into fuel rods for the reactor.

If that difference cannot be bridged, it could allow Iranian officials to assert that the deal failed due to Western foot-dragging, despite their readiness to accept the proposed formula of shipping out the bulk of their enriched uranium and waiting for it to be converted and returned as fuel.

Ahmadinejad also did not address whether his country was ready to ship out most of its stockpile in one batch - another condition set by the six world powers endorsing the fuel swap.

If Iran were to agree to export most of its enriched uranium in one shipment, it would delay its ability to make a nuclear weapon by stripping it of the material it needs to make the fissile core of a warhead.

Experts believe it would need at least a year to replenish its stockpile at its present rate of uranium enrichment.

For months, Iranian officials have used the media to criticize the plan and offer alternatives.

The West suspects that Iran's nuclear program is geared toward acquiring atomic weapons. Iran denies the charge and says the program is for the peaceful purpose of generating energy.

"If we allow them to take it, there is no problem. We sign a contract to give 3.5 per cent enriched uranium and receive 20 per cent enriched one after four or five months," Ahmadinejad said.

He dismissed concerns by what he called "colleagues" that the West would not return the uranium, saying Iran would respond to that by continuing to produce its own enriched uranium.

The plan for shipping the low enriched uranium abroad for treatment comes from the International Atomic Agency. It was first drawn up in early October in a landmark meeting in Geneva between Iran and the six world powers, and then refined later that month in Vienna talks among Iran, the U.S., Russia and France.

The talks in Vienna came up with a draft proposal that would take 70 per cent of Iran's low-enriched uranium to reduce its stockpile of material that could be enriched to a higher level, and possibly be used to make nuclear weapons.

That uranium would be returned about a year later as refined fuel rods, which can power reactors but cannot be readily turned into weapons-grade material.

IAEA officials did not immediately return after-hours calls to their mobile phones seeking comment.

At the White House, spokesman Mike Hammer said the United States has made "a good faith and balanced offer regarding the Tehran research reactor" that makes sense for Iran and Western countries.

"If Mr. Ahmadinejad's comments reflect an updated Iranian position, we look forward to Iran informing the IAEA," said Hammer, the National Security Council's spokesman.

The foreign ministries of Britain, France and Germany said they had no immediate comment.

In Tuesday's interview, Ahmadinejad repeated his wish to see the West build nuclear power plants in his country. "They want to co-operate? OK, we co-operate. We do not have any problem. Let them build 20 nuclear power plants. Is there a problem? Russia, France and the U.S., come and build."

Iran is building with Russia's help its first nuclear power plant in the southern port city of Bushehr. The plant is scheduled to be inaugurated later this year.

The United States and its Western allies have been pushing for a fourth round of U.N. sanctions to be slapped on Iran over its disputed nuclear program. But with Russia, and especially China, skeptical of any new U.N. penalties, they have to tread carefully to maintain six power unity on how to deal with the Islamic Republic.

International concerns include Iran's refusal to heed U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze its enrichment program; fears that it may be hiding more nuclear facilities after its belated revelations that it was building a secret fortified enrichment plant, and its stonewalling of an IAEA probe of alleged programs geared to developing nuclear arms.

In Berlin, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday that the Palestinian Authority will respond within a week to a proposal made by US Middle East envoy George Mitchell to push forward the Middle East peace process.

"There is a proposal from Mitchell ... we have promised to examine this, to discuss it with our brothers and friends and then give an answer within a week from today," Abbas said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

After a round of shuttle diplomacy earlier in January, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abbas, Mitchell put forward a plan to re-launch peace talks.

According to a Palestinian official, the plan calls on Israel to loosen its hold on some Palestinian-controlled areas, release a number of prisoners and ease a virtual blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The initiative was aimed at "creating an atmosphere" for the re-launch of peace talks suspended more than a year ago, the official said on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinian Authority has refused to negotiate with Israel without a complete halt to settlement building in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Abbas has said Israel's partial settlement freeze, which excludes building in annexed Arab east Jerusalem and the construction of public building, was insufficient.