Abdullah, Bush Discuss Containing Mideast Fires
ICEJ NEWS - 04/11/2001
In his latest "consultation" with Middle East leaders, US President George W. Bush hosted Jordan's King Abdullah at the White House on Tuesday to discuss bilateral ties and how to keep the Palestinian uprising from spilling over into the Hashemite Kingdom.
Before his appointment with Bush, Abdullah spent a week in the US drumming up support for Jordan's stalled bid for a free-trade agreement with America. He also spoke at length with US Secretary of State Colin Powell about possible alterations to the sanctions regime on Iraq. But the main topic of discussion throughout the visit was containing the mini-war between Israel and the Palestinians.
Bush first brought Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Washington in late March to coordinate strategies between the two incoming governments. He then consulted with Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak at the start of April, and followed up with an invite to Abdullah. Both Arab leaders sought and received assurances that the Bush Administration would remain engaged in Middle East diplomacy. Bush insisted on each occasion that he was prepared to "facilitate" movement towards peace, but not to "force" it.
During Abdullah's visit, Bush officials carefully side-stepped the question of when they plan to invite PLO chief Yasser Arafat to Washington.
In a brief encounter with the press yesterday in the Oval Office, Bush repeated his demand that, "First and foremost the violence must stop." In a thinly veiled message to Arab leaders who have been backing Arafat and the Palestinian uprising, Bush said it is important that all parties use their influence to stop the violence.
Abdullah was careful during the trip to laud the positive US role in brokering Israeli-Arab peace talks over the past decade. He added that some in the region have wrongly perceived the new US administration as abandoning the peace process. Instead, he contended, Bush is simply waiting for stronger signs of readiness to cooperate between Israel and the Palestinians before plunging in.
"The American administration feels, quite rightly I believe, that both sides need to sit down together and show that they're willing to take the risk to move forward, at which point the Americans would be there to help them," Abdullah said Monday night on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" on PBS.
Abdullah also warned during the PBS program that if Israelis and Palestinians "continue in this cycle of violence, it could escalate beyond the borders of the Palestinians and the Israelis." Asked if Arafat could end the violence even if he wanted to, Abdullah said, "There's no doubt since the start of the intifada his power has declined somewhat, but I think he has the ability to influence his people."
Meanwhile, Abdullah described Sharon as a "man of his word" and said he looks forward to working with him.
In a follow-up development, Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdulilah Khatib plans to travel to Israel in the coming days to meet with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and discuss a Jordanian-Egyptian plan for ending the violence and resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. Khatib was reluctant to detail the plan, but sources briefed on it said the ideas reflected more or less the ideas put forth by the Americans - that the sides should take reciprocal steps to end the violence, avoid unilateral provocative steps, and resume peace talks as quickly as possible.
If the visit takes place, it will be the first by a senior Arab official to Israel since the collapse of the Camp David talks last year.
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.