Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Crown Prince, Second Deputy Premier, Governor of Riyadh discuss with Turkish Premier Erdogan regional developments, bilateral relations

King Abdullah hands Erdogan service to Islam award

Turkish PM says Syria not hesitant about resuming indirect negotiations

Crown Prince Sultan receives Boeing CEO

Prince Naif wishes stability in Iraq after parliamentary elections

Saudi Arabia takes part in 7th conference of Arab education ministers in Oman

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, held a meeting with visiting Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Al-Faisaliya Center.

At the outset of the meeting, the King congratulated Prime Minister of Turkey on winning King Faisal International Prize for 2010 in recognition of his Service to Islam, wishing him very success.

Then, they discussed prospects for cooperation between the two countries and ways of strengthening them in addition to events and developments at the regional and international arenas.

The meeting was attended by Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Premier and Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General; Prince Naif bin Abdulaziz, Second Deputy Premier and Minister of Interior; Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh region, and Prince Khalid Al-Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Makkah region and Director General of King Faisal Charitable Foundation who is also President of Commission of King Faisal International Prize.

Turkey’s role as a key player in Middle East and Arab affairs was set in cement when the Saudis honored Prime Minister Erdogan with a prestigious prize for his “service to Islam.” With its own efforts to advance Palestinian-Israeli peace talks flagging, and arch-rival Iran shrugging off pressure to halt its nuclear drive, Riyadh blessed Ankara’s rising assertiveness in the region in hopes that Erdogan can bring some progress, analysts said.

On a visit to Riyadh to receive the King Faisal Prize for Service To Islam — presented by King Abdullah himself late on Tuesday — Erdogan minced no words in staking out his own role.

“We are not spectators,” he told a group of top Saudi editors at lunch on Tuesday as he offered his views on conflicts involving Iran, Syria, the Palestinians, and even Yemen.

He said Turkey expected to be the intermediary for revived peace talks between Israel and Syria, and rejected US-pushed sanctions for Iran, which Riyadh has expressed discomfort with.

“I don’t believe that any further sanctions will yield results,” said Erdogan, whose country is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council that could vote on any new Iranian sanctions resolution by the year’s end.

The Turkish premier also insisted Hamas be at the table for Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which Saudi Arabia has resisted.

“We cannot bury our head in the sand,” he said of Hamas’ role.

“If we want to achieve positive results, then the talks must include all parties.

Mustafa Alani, research director at the Gulf Research Centre, a Dubai-based think-tank, said Turkey wanted “more involvement, and the Arab and Gulf states want them more involved.”

“Turkey has a very unique position, they have good relations with Iran and with Israel. This is an advantage for us,” said Alani.

The recognition represented a turn by the Saudis, who have long pushed the line that Arab problems are for Arabs to sort out — a policy directed at Tehran, which Riyadh views as a dangerous meddler.

With Turkey’s bid for European Union membership stalled over the Cyprus issue, and Erdogan’s apparent turn from Ankara’s former secularist political stance, they now had a role to play in a broader “Islamic politics.”

“We look at Turkey as a counterbalance to Iran,” Alani said.

Turkey’s ascendancy in regional politics has been coming for several years, helping broker earlier rounds of Syrian-Israeli talks, for instance.

Erdogan further gained respect in January 2009, when he famously blasted Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos forum over Israel’s assault on Gaza, and then stormed out of the room.

The move contrasted with the disarray and some less-than-vehement reactions from the Arab countries.

With 1,000 top Saudi officials, academics and foreign diplomats in attendance at the prize banquet, the King Faisal Foundation lauded Erdogan as having “rendered outstanding service to Islam by defending the causes of the Islamic nation, particularly the Palestinian cause and the just rights of the Palestinian people.”

“At the international level, he was a leading Muslim founder of the call for rapport between civilizations and a passionate advocate of constructive dialogue, openness, and principles of international understanding and cooperation,” said the foundation’s chief Abdullah al-Othaimeen.

The King Faisal prize comes with a hefty gold medal and 200,000 dollars cash, but for both sides that was hardly the point.

Though it came from a private foundation, the prize was clearly a sign of approval from the Saudi leadership. The King Faisal Foundation is closely tied to the Saudi foreign policy establishment.

The prize “acknowledges Erdogan personally and Turkey as well in our strategic calculation,” said Alani.

It was the second Erdogan received in as many weeks after he was granted the first UN award in memory of slain former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

On he other hand, Erdogan noted on Tuesday that Syria has said it is ready to restart peace talks with Israel mediated by Turkey, and there are some positive signals from the Israeli side.

Speaking in Saudi Arabia during a visit to receive a prize for services to Islam, Erdogan said his government was assessing whether to resume its role.

"Syria wants Turkey's mediation. Israel sometimes gives positive signals on it. The situation will be evaluated," Erdogan was quoted as saying by state-run news agency Anatolia.

"If we reach a positive conclusion, I hope we will start the process," he said.

An aide to Erdogan told Reuters no formal request for mediation had been received from the Israeli government.

Israel and Syria held four indirect rounds of peace talks with Turkish mediation in 2008, but they were suspended following the resignation of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in September that year.

A senior official in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's bureau also said no decision had been taken on whether to renew talks with Syria under Turkish mediation.

The official went on to cautiously welcome Erdogan's reported comments, saying: "If the words reflect Turkey's wish to strengthen its ties with Israel and to contribute to forwarding peace, this, of course, is a welcome aspiration."

Some Israeli politicians had aired reservations in recent months about Turkey's suitability as relations soured after Erdogan's repeated criticism of the Israeli offensive in Palestinian-ruled Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009.

The Israeli coalition appears divided over whether to recommence peace talks with Turkey acting as mediator.

Muslim but secular Turkey has a history of military cooperation with Israel, and has acted as an intermediary between the Jewish state and the Arab World.

In Riyadh, Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Deputy Premier, Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General, received at his palace Jim McNerney, the Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of The Boeing Company; and the accompanying delegation.

During the meeting, they exchanged cordial talks and discussed issues of common interest.

The meeting was attended by a number of princes and senior officials.

In the Omani capital Muscat, the 7th Arab Ministers of Education conference, organized by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO), and the Oman Commission of Education, Cultures and Sciences, began its two-day deliberations on Sunday.

Kuwaiti Minister of Education and Higher Education Dr. Moudhi Al-Humoud heads the Kuwaiti delegation to the conference.

The conference will highlight various challenges faced by the education system and will discuss means to promote post-basic education in the Arab world.

The conference aims at reviewing the current pedagogical situation in the post-basic education system.

It will also introduce new pedagogical notions and global experiments from different Arab countries to reform the post basic education, according to a report of Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).