Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques discusses with U.S. Secretary of Defense region’s developments

Yemen considering Gulf calls for dialogue

Bahrain rejects Ahmadinejad’s statements, slams Tehran’s interference in its affairs

U.S. replies to Gaddafi’s message for Obama by urging him to employ action, not words

Egypt’s military council warns of distorting army’s image, affirms Egypt won’t be ruled by “another Khomeini”

Syria to life emergency law early next month

Sudan accuses Israel of pounding areas near Port Sudan

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud received at his palace the U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the accompanying delegation.

At the outset of the audience, Gates conveyed to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques the greetings of President Barack Obama of the United States of America (USA) as the King entrusted him to convey his greetings and appreciation to President Obama.

Then, the overall developments and current events in the region as well as prospects of cooperation between the two countries were discussed.

The audience was attended by Prince Saud al-Faisal, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Prince Miqren bin Abdulaziz, Chief of General Intelligence; Prince Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Assistant Minister of Defense and Aviation and Inspector General for Military Affairs; Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Minister of State, Cabinet Member and Commander of the National Guard; Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the King; Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir, Saudi Ambassador to USA and James B. Smith, U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom.

Meanwhile, Members of the Gulf Cooperation Council announced that all parties in Yemen should sit for talks aimed at ending months of political violence.

More than a dozen people were killed when Yemeni security forces fired on protesters calling for an end to the regime of President Abdullah Ali Saleh, a united Yemen's first and only president.

"The GCC calls on all parties in Yemen to return to national dialogue," Arab News quoted GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif al-Zayani as saying. "We respect the Yemeni people's will and choices that would ensure the country's unity, security and stability."

The country's foreign ministry added that Yemeni leaders welcomed "any ideas" presented by members of the GCC, the official Saba news agency reports.

Saleh affirmed his readiness to discuss handing over power under a constitutional process. The embattled president has made a series of concessions to members of the opposition though his opponents continue to call for his immediate resignation.

Saleh met with tribal leaders in the province of Saada to discuss the turmoil in the country. He vowed to return life to normal as soon as possible, Saba added.

In Bahrain, Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa said Iran could "make mistakes" that could create broader problems in the Persian Gulf region.

Bahrain responded violently to growing unrest in the kingdom following the arrival troops from the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Iran criticized a decision by the Sunni leadership in Bahrain to allow Saudi troops to enter the country last week. Khalifa was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying alleged Iranian meddling could spark broader conflict in the region.

"They could make mistakes in causing a conflict," he said. "The campaign against us from Iran at this stage is political but it could have a different posture at any time."

Mark Toner, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said this week that while Iran had a reputation of meddling in regional affairs, Washington had "no evidence" Iran was involved in the Shiite uprising in Bahrain.

Khalid, however, said his government had to take the security situation serious.

"There is a serious fault in this region between Iran and its neighbors," he added.

U.N. officials added that a Bahraini decision to allegedly block access to hospitals was illegal.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rebuffed a personal appeal from Muammar Gaddafi to U.S. President Barack Obama, saying the Libyan leader should impose a cease-fire, withdraw his forces and go into exile.

The White House confirmed that Gaddafi had written a letter to Obama but said nothing about its contents, first reported by the Associated Press, which said he had appealed to Obama for a cease-fire in a rambling, three-page message.

"With respect to the letter you referred to, I think that Mr. Gaddafi knows what he must do," Clinton told a news conference with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

"There needs to be a cease-fire, his forces need to withdraw from the cities that they have forcibly taken at great violence and human cost. There needs to be a decision made about his departure from power and ... his departure from Libya," Clinton told reporters.

"I don't think there is any mystery about what is expected from Mr. Gaddafi at this time," she added. "The sooner that occurs, and the bloodshed ends, the better it will be for everyone."

Clinton also defended the performance of NATO forces who are conducting air strikes to enforce a no-fly zone and to protect civilians from attack by Gaddafi's forces in a civil war between the long-time North African leader and opposition forces.

In Cairo, the provisional military council said that Egypt will not be ruled by "another (Ayatollah) Khomeini," in reference to the cleric who led Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, the official MENA news agency reported.

"Egypt will not be governed by another Khomeini," the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces said after a three-hour meeting with newspaper editors-in-chief and MENA.

The military rulers made the comment amid concerns over the increased visibility of the Muslim Brotherhood, banned under the regime of president Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down on February 11 after a popular uprising.

Mubarak's departure raised fears in the West of the creation of an Islamist regime in Egypt, where the Brotherhood is the strongest opposition force.

The Brotherhood says it is not in favor of a religious state.

"The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces will not allow extremist factions to control Egypt," Deputy Defense Minister Mohammed Mokhtar al-Molla told the journalists.

The military also reiterated its commitment to transfer power to civilian rule after legislative and presidential elections, and to respect freedom of expression.

It "expressed the hope that the Egypt of tomorrow will be democratic and modern", MENA reported.

Mubarak in February transferred his powers to the military, which has committed itself to handing the reins to civilian rule after a parliamentary election due in September.

A presidential election is due "one or two months" after that.

In Damascus, Syrian presidential advisor Buthaina Shaaban said this week that the country's 48-year- long emergency law terminates, the local Syrian News Station website reported.

The decision came in the wake of nationwide protests that erupted during the last few days and resulted in some 50 people killed, according to Syrian official reports.

The decision aims to contain the protests that call for more political freedom, putting an end to corruption and releasing political prisoners.

In Khartoum, Sudan's Foreign Minister Ali Karti accused Israel of carrying out an attack near Port Sudan that killed two people this week and said Khartoum reserved the right to react to the aggression.

"This is absolutely an Israeli attack," he told reporters.

He said Israel undertook the attack in order scupper Sudan's chances of being removed from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

One of the two people killed in the strike was a Sudanese citizen who had no ties to Islamists or the government, he said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor declined to comment on the accusation.

Sudanese officials have offered different versions on how the strike was carried out. Police say a missile struck the car near the port city, but a state government official blamed a bombing by a foreign aircraft that flew in from the Red Sea.

Sudanese officials in 2009 said unknown aircraft had killed scores in a strike on a convoy of suspected arms smugglers on a remote road in the east, which some reports said may have been carried out by Israel to stop weapons bound for Gaza.

Sudan is on a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, but Washington this year initiated the process to remove it from that list after a peaceful January referendum in which the country's south voted to secede.