Saudi Arabia

Conservative Arab oil states are softening their once-rigid anti-Israeli line. Kuwait now does business with companies on the Arabs' boycott list, saying it needs all the help it can get rebuilding. The winds of change are also sweeping Saudi Arabia, whose population is among the most traditional in the Muslim world. In a wide-ranging TV policy address on Nov. 14, King Fahd spoke out in support of the Madrid peace talks and, in a first for a Saudi king, mentioned Israel by name several times. There was, said Fahd, "no alternative to peace." Days later, the kingdom's top religious leader, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, backed the Saudi decision to sit at multilateral peace talks with Israelis, noting that Jews had been early supporters of the prophet Muhammad. Fahd is also pledging cautious moves toward democratization by unveiling plans for a consultative assembly next January.

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