Riyadh, 14. May 2003 Press release

Ferrero-Waldner holds talks in Saudi Arabia - condemns terror attacks

14.05.2003

Recognition for Saudi Arabia's commitment to finding a peaceful solution to the Palestine conflict

Riyadh, 14 May 2003 - Minister for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner held talks with Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) today. Ferrero-Waldner took this opportunity to express her sympathy for the relatives of those killed in the terror attacks, saying that she had no patience with terrorism in any shape or form.

The Austrian Foreign Minister said that the aim of her visit to Saudia Arabia - like that of her Maghreb tour in February 2003 - was to maintain close contacts between the two countries as "a factor in building additional trust and confidence between Europe and the Arab states", especially in the wake of the Iraq crisis. "The Iraq crisis, like the Middle East problem over the last decades, has once again highlighted the importance of maintaining this contact. Austria among all EU states can look back on a special historical tradition in this respect, and for myself as Austrian Foreign Minister this is a particular concern. The countries of the Arab world are our neighbours, and whether or not these neighbourly relations prosper in future will depend upon how successful we are in our increased efforts to project and transport our stability and prosperity outwards as well as inwards. This issue is of major importance for the European Union as a whole, not least because many EU Member States are home to large communities originating from these countries, and the successful integration of these people also depends to a large extent on the positive development of our relations with their native lands", stated Ferrero-Waldner.

After her talks in Riyadh, Ferrero-Waldner pointed out that in the aftermath of the war in Iraq, Iraq's neighbours have "a special interest, but also a special responsibility, with regard to maintaining the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Iraq and bringing about the internal stabilisation of the country". "These concerns are also of the most innate interest to Iraq's neighbours themselves, since the events in Iraq also exert an influence on their own stability", added the Foreign Minister.

The talks also focussed on the future of the Middle East region. Ferrero-Waldner said she continued to find it difficult to envisage peace in the Middle East without a solution to the problems between Israel and its Arab neighbours, in particular the Palestinians. However, the Foreign Minister added that there had recently been "some positive developments", especially the appointment of Mahmud Abbas as Palestinian Prime Minister and the subsequent publication of the road map providing for the creation of a Palestinian state by 2005. "The road map published by the quartet (USA, EU, Russia, UN) is the first positive signal of a return to the political negotiating table since the start of the 2nd Intifada almost three years ago. This road map would not have been possible without the stubborn insistence of the EU. Even in the USA, we succeeded in creating understanding for the fact that a political solution to the Middle East problem is an essential sine qua non for creating peace in the region; since the 11th September at the latest, there has also been a growing awareness in the USA of how important it is to bring peace to the Middle East; not just for the region itself, but for the USA too and, indeed, the international community as a whole", said Ferrero-Waldner.

However, the Foreign Minister emphasised that in her opinion Saudi Arabia too had made an important contribution to the current efforts towards peace: "Thanks to an initiative by the Saudi Crown Prince, the Arab League Summit in March last year produced a joint peace plan by the Arab states aimed at creating peaceful relations between Israel and the countries of the Arab world. Saudi Arabia's commitment to this issue deserves our special recognition and respect, because it is Saudi Arabia, as the centre of the Islamic world, that holds a decisive key to a peaceful solution to the Palestine conflict", continued Ferrero-Waldner.

The Foreign Minister went on to stress that the particular aim of her visits to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia was also to strengthen bilateral relations. "Austria maintains excellent political relations with both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, as well as pursuing a fruitful economic cooperation that is doubtless capable of further development. I have therefore been accompanied on my visits by Walter Koren, Head of the Foreign Trade Department of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, and economic projects have been an important focus of our talks in both countries", concluded Ferrero-Waldner.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs will travel back to Kuwait today to receive the first 10 Iraqi children being transferred to Austria for humanitarian medical treatment. The Foreign Minister will accompany the wounded children on their flight to Austria, landing at Vienna Schwechat Airport at around 2 p.m. tomorrow Thursday.