The United Nations’ so-called interfaith summit is mired in controversy even before it begins Wednesday.
More than 20 world leaders, including President Bush, are expected to convene at U.N. headquarters in New York City for the two-day meeting.
The meeting, a follow-up to an earlier meeting in Madrid, is the brainchild of Saudi King Abdullah, who leads his nation's delegation to the forum.
That is where the controversy begins: Israeli President Shimon Peres is among the leaders.
Speculation has been rampant in the Arab and the Israeli press as to whether the Saudi and the Israeli leaders might meet. It would be a first for both nations.
Riyadh has refused any diplomatic recognition of the Jewish state until the status of Jerusalem is resolved.
That is ironic, because it is a badly hidden secret that members of the same Saudi royal family have sought medical treatment at Israel's Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
Although the Israeli press has examined the issue of future relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem, the Arab press has spent most of its time pointedly asking: "Who invited the Jew?"
Saudi officials, who have said tolerance is a cornerstone of the interfaith dialog planned for the meeting, hastened to explain that the Royal family did not invite anybody.
Riyadh's ambassador in Lebanon, Abdul Aziz Koja, told several Arab newspapers, "The president of the General Assembly addressed invitations to all U.N. member states."
He added, "Those who accused Saudi Arabia of inviting Israel should check their facts."
King Abdullah echoed that sentiment.
The Saudi delegation told Newsmax that the king has no intention to meet Peres while in New York.
Israel's U.N. mission had no comment on the issue.
Could Abdullah have a chance encounter with Peres? Possibly.
In 2000, President Clinton had a chance encounter with Cuban President Fidel Castro in a reception line Secretary-General Kofi Annan was hosting during the U.N. Millennium Summit.
Abdullah will meet Bush on Thursday, and although religion might be discussed, the White House and Saudi sources told Newsmax the economic summit in Washington this weekend will take up much of the hour they will spend together.
Another irony to the U.N.’s interfaith summit is that one of the official hosts is General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann. A former Nicaraguan Roman Catholic priest who was born in Los Angeles, d'Escoto is remembered best as Daniel Ortega's fiery foreign minister throughout the 1980s.
Ortega and d'Escoto often locked horns with the Reagan administration.
In 1986, during the U.N. General Assembly, Ortega ranted, "President Reagan should remember Rambo exists only in the movies!"
U.S. Ambassador Vernon Walters protested the comment and left the assembly.
While still a priest, d'Escoto also had disputes with Pope John Paul II over his involvement with the officially atheistic communist movement, including an admonishment from the Vatican.
D'Escoto, who eventually abandoned his collar, is serving a one-year term as assembly president, expiring in September.
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