Leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia endorsed Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process Saturday, despite a drumbeat of criticism directed toward her by the government-influenced media in both countries.
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, long considered the least pro-American of the kingdom’s senior princes, described Albright as “brave and frank,” and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said she had made more headway toward refurbishing Israeli-Palestinian relations than she had acknowledged.
“This is what we always look for in an (American) administration - a secretary of state who is brave and frank at the same time,” Abdullah said for the benefit of reporters called to watch the start of his meeting with Albright. “You and I have a lot in common - we both like to be frank and honest, straightforward. We don’t like to beat around the bush.”
U.S. officials were ecstatic about the comments from the dour crown prince, a half-brother of King Fahd. Abdullah has taken over increasing governmental responsibilities from the ailing monarch.
“We had been trying to cultivate and broaden our relations with this guy,” a senior U.S. official said of Abdullah. “Frankly, it’s been an area where we haven’t done the job very well. I am extremely happy with the way today went.”
Albright flew to the Red Sea port city of Jidda following a morning of talks with Mubarak in Alexandria, Egypt.
The visit to Saudi Arabia, a conservative Muslim nation where women rarely play a role in public politics, was an interesting test for Albright, the first woman secretary of state. In deference to the kingdom’s religious sensitivities, she wore a long black dress with long sleeves, but her Saudi hosts made clear that her gender was no impediment to their working with Washington’s chief diplomat.
According to U.S. officials who attended the meetings in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the Arab leaders hailed Albright’s approach of pushing Israelis and Palestinians to shoulder their “mutual responsibilities” in revitalizing the peace process.
Mubarak, Fahd and Abdullah told Albright that her talks last week in Israel and the West Bank produced more movement than she claimed. On Friday, Albright said she had made only “small steps” when more farreaching action was required.
With Albright at his side, Mubarak told a news conference: “What she has done and achieved was not expected by other people. … It is encouraging, it is giving hope. … I think the situation will be much more easier to proceed forward.”