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Sunday, January 14, 2007

Jordan: US must 'push' ME peace

Jordan: US must 'push' ME peace

Jordan's king told visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday that Washington must "actively push" for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and warned that violence would escalate if no tangible solution was found to the lingering conflict.

King Abdullah II also warned that Iraqi reconciliation would fail if Sunni Iraqis were not engaged in their country's decision making.

"Any political process that doesn't ensure the participation of all segments of Iraqi society will fail and will lead to more violence," Abdullah told Rice in a closed-door meeting in Amman, according to a statement by his press office.

  • "As a key component of the Iraqi social fabric, the Iraqi Sunni community must be included as partners in building Iraq's future," said the king, a top US ally in the Mideast.

    Along with other US allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, Jordan is concerned that the growing Shiite Muslim influence stretching from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon will help the hard-line Tehran regime dominate the Mideast and give rise to more extremism, jeopardizing a Mideast settlement and threatening their own states.

    Ruled by Sunni leaders, these countries are lukewarm toward the Shiite-dominated government in Iraq and are pressing the Bush administration for a larger share of power by Arab Sunnis there.

    King Abdullah also wants his longtime US friend to apply an equal amount of diplomatic energy spent on Iraq to reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

    In his talks with Rice, Abdullah "called on the United States to actively push for a revival of Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations that would lead to the establishment of a viable, independent Palestinian state that would fulfill Palestinian aspirations for freedom, independence and security," the statement said.

    The Jordanian monarch warned that "without tangible, specific steps to activate the implementation of the Road Map in the near future, the cycle of violence will widen," he said referring to the US-backed peace plan, which envisions the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

    He called on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on international legality and the Arab Peace Initiative. This Arab initiative, unveiled at an Arab summit in Lebanon in 2002, calls for Israel to withdraw from all territory occupied since the 1967 Mideast war in return for full recognition by Arab countries.

    The statement quoted Rice as reiterating America's commitment to establishing a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. Rice reportedly said the American administration would work with all concerned parties to bring the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table.

    Earlier, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told Rice on Sunday he opposes the establishment of a provisional Palestinian state in temporary borders, a key part of the US-backed "road map" peace plan.

    Palestinian officials in recent weeks have grown increasingly wary of the idea, which was also proposed by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, fearing they will be stuck indefinitely with a truncated state.

    "We reaffirmed to Secretary Rice our rejection of any temporary or transitional solutions, including a state with temporary borders, because we don't see it as a realistic option," he told a joint news conference with Rice.

    Rice responded by reiterating the US commitment to the road map, but did not address the idea of a provisional state.

    "My work is going to be best targeted, I think, in these next months on trying to accelerate progress on the road map, which after all would lead us then to a Palestinian state and to helping the Palestinians and Israelis think through the political horizon," she said.

    She said she was told during her trip that the United States needed to deepen its involvement in Middle East peace efforts. "You will have my commitment to do precisely that," she said.

    "The Palestinian people have waited a long time for their own state. The Israeli people have waited a long time to live in security and peace with their neighbors," she said, adding that she and US President George W. Bush were willing to do what was needed to help make that a reality.

    Abbas also said he is determined to go ahead with early presidential and legislative elections if the latest round of coalition talks with Hamas fails.

    Abbas's envoys and Hamas have reported progress after two weeks of secret negotiations, though talks broke down repeatedly in the past over the distribution of key cabinet portfolios and the government's program.

    Abbas said it was premature to talk about a possible meeting between him and the Hamas leader-in-exile, Khaled Mashaal, who is based in Syria. Abbas is to visit Syria later this month.

    The PA leader said early elections are still an option. "We hope and we work to achieve this [a unity government] as soon as possible," he said. If not, "we will return to the people and hold the early parliamentary and presidential elections," he added.

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