January 28, 2010 / 3:24 PM / 10 years ago

UPDATE 3-Saudi Arabia sets firm conditions for Afghan role

* Saudi Arabia wants Taliban to prove its intentions

* Calls on Taliban to cut ties with militant networks

* Afghan settlement must also be economic and social

(Adds fresh quotes, background)

By Samia Nakhoul

LONDON, Jan 28 (Reuters) - The Taliban must deny sanctuary to Osama bin Laden before Saudi Arabia will agree to act as a mediator in any Afghan peace deal, the kingdom’s foreign minister said on Thursday.

Prince Saud al-Faisal was responding to Afghan President Hamid Karzai who had called on Saudi Arabia, which has hosted talks between Afghan government and Taliban representatives in the past, to help bring peace to Afghanistan.

“Unless the Taliban give up the issue of sanctuary (to bin Laden) I don’t think the negotiations with them will be possible or feasible to achieve anything,” Prince Saud told reporters on the sidelines of a London conference.

“We have two conditions for Saudi Arabia’s involvement: that the request comes officially from Afghanistan and the Taliban has to prove its intentions in coming to the negotiations by cutting their relations with the terrorists and proving it,” he said.

“By keeping their contacts with bin Laden they won’t be coming to any negotiations with a positive attitude.

POLICY CHANGE

Saudi Arabia froze ties with the Taliban in 1998 over the group’s refusal to hand over bin Laden, who had been stripped of his Saudi citizenship for militant attacks in the oil-producing kingdom and activities against the al-Saud royal family.

“I think the important theme in this conference is the intention to change policy in Afghanistan, a recognition first that the settlement in Afghanistan is not going to be a military question alone but there has to be a political and economic side to the settlement,” Prince Saud said.

“If peace is brought between Afghans and the terrorists are isolated then the war against the terrorists would be successful,” he added.

The United States has insisted that insurgents can only be included in a political settlement if they sever all ties with al Qaeda, renounce violence and respect the Afghan constitution.

Karzai said that Afghanistan needed the support of its neighbours, particularly Pakistan, to secure peace.

Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were the only three countries to recognise the Taliban government before it was ousted in the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

Asked whether Saudi Arabia shares the concern of the West and other allies that Iran’s nuclear programme is aimed at building an atomic bomb and not for creating electricity as Tehran claims, Prince Saud said:

“If they are working on a peaceful nuclear programme they certainly have a strange way of showing it. All the countries that are working on a peaceful programme are not acting like Iran.

“There is one sure way of stopping that, that is to take a decision at the Security Council that no weapons of mass destruction, nuclear or otherwise will be allowed in the Middle East and that includes Israel.”

Israel is thought to be the only country in the Middle East to possess an undeclared nuclear arsenal. (Reporting by Samia Nakhoul; writing by Peter Millership; Editing by Charles Dick)

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