WHEN the BBC's John Simpson asked King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for his opinion on the prospects for President Bush's Peace Conference on the Israeli-Palestinian situation the King replied, very evenly, that he thought it was too early to comment on the matter.
Since the Conference was originally scheduled to be held in November we must draw the conclusion that Saudi Arabia does not think much of its prospects. It is worth remembering, amidst the United States' revival of the discredited road map for the peace process, that more than two years ago Saudi Arabia prepared an alternative plan which involved recognition of Israel by all Arab states in return for Israeli compromises on borders and settlements. Saudi Arabia is still waiting for an Israeli response to its proposals. King Abdullah's visit to London is encountering the usual protests against the Saudi regime and, as usual, the British government is giving assurances that it will raise human rights issues with the King. What could not have been anticipated is the decision of Britain's Foreign Secretary David Milliband to take paternity leave (for an adopted child) at the precise moment that King Abdullah is in London for the first such meeting with British ministers for 20 years. Mr Milliband's decision casts serious doubts on his fitness for the office he holds and Gordon Brown would be wise to ask for his resignation.