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21 Adar 5762 18:43Monday March 4, 2002

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Sharon warns Saudi plan may be Arab plot
By Gil Hoffman

JERUSALEM (March 4) - Prime Minister Ariel Sharon sharply criticized Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud's initiative at yesterday's cabinet meeting, alleging that the plan may be an Arab plot to put international pressure on Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 lines.

Until yesterday Sharon had made little mention of the Saudi initiative, which calls for Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 lines in return for full diplomatic relations, normalized trade, and security guarantees from Arab countries. But at the meeting, he said Israel's final borders must be decided during negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and not before.

"If the goal of the Arab world is to replace UN resolutions 242 and 338 with a demand for a total withdrawal to pre-June 1967 borders, we obviously cannot accept it," Sharon told the cabinet in the closed-door meeting, according to cabinet secretary Gideon Sa'ar.

Sa'ar said Israel accepted the resolutions, which call for a withdrawal from "territories," but no Israeli government has accepted a return to the 1967 borders, which he said would put Israel's security in jeopardy.

Sharon warned the Americans that the Palestinians may try to bring the initiative to the UN, as a substitute for the resolutions. He also criticized the plan for lacking a security element.

"I don't think we can call an article in an American newspaper an initiative," Sa'ar said of the plan, which premiered in a column by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who admitted he was invited to Saudi Arabia to help improve the country's image.

The initiative is causing a rift among Arabs ahead of the March 27 Arab League summit in Beirut, during which Abdullah has said he will present the plan.

Syrian President Bashar Assad visited Lebanon yesterday and will travel to Saudi Arabia this week for talks on the plan. In Lebanon, Assad told reporters he would insist on the plan including the Palestinians' being granted the right of return.

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi rejected the plan Saturday, saying it was "shocking" and entailed "cheap bargaining." Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa held talks yesterday with Gaddafi, in an effort to convince him not to remove Libya from the Arab body.

Moussa said the Arab League wants to turn the initiative into a comprehensive Arab plan. He is to visit Saudi Arabia today to discuss the initiative and the summit's agenda with the Saudi leadership.

(News agencies contributed to this report.)

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