President Bush will make a curtain call appearance at U.N. headquarters on Thursday to address a so-called “religion summit” on interfaith dialogue.
The two-day, high-level meeting is the brainchild of Saudi King Abdullah, who will host it along with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto.
About 25 world leaders will convene in midtown Manhattan for event, and many will travel on to Washington for the Bush economic next weekend. Among others expected at the U.N., are Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, Philippine President Gloria Arroyo, Israel President Shimon Peres, Spain King Juan Carlos, and Jordan King Abdullah.
President-elect Barack Obama also has been invited, but it is not clear whether he will attend. The Saudi ruler was one of the first to congratulate Obama for winning the presidency.
For Bush, the interfaith summit and the following economic summit are the finishing touches on his foreign policy initiatives.
"The president appreciates King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia's initiative in calling for this dialog and remains committed to fostering interfaith harmony among all religions, both at home and abroad," White House press secretary Dana Perino said.
Bush will meet King Abdullah for a private session in New York City, but it is not clear whether Peres would meet the Saudi leader, which would be a first.
Critics of the meeting point to the State Department's concern about religious freedom in Saudi Arabia. It has been considered a "country of particular concern" since 2004. Such freedoms don’t exist in Saudi kingdom, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Churches and synagogues are forbidden inside Saudi Arabia.
Some critics asked why, if Abdullah is interested in opening an interfaith dialog, why meet in New York rather than his own country?
Although religion is the main topic to be discussed during the U.N. sessions, Bush and the Saudi king also are expected to discuss the plummeting price of crude oil.
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