Jordan's King Abdullah II told President Bush today that stalled negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis should be based on "clear grounds and fixed timetables" as the United States pushes for reaching a Mideast peace agreement by next January.
Bush, beginning two days of Mideast diplomacy at the White House, met with the king over breakfast. It was a quick session; the king arrived and left within an hour.
Later, Abdullah met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who also came to Washington to see Bush. They will meet on Thur sday. The Palestinians and Israelis remain far apart on peace negotiations, and Abbas is seeking U.S. help to move things forward, his spokesman said.
"The gaps are still there," said Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina. "The Palestinian and Israeli positions are still far from each other. That requires American intervention."
There was no immediate readout of the talks from the White House, but the Jordanian Embassy said Abdullah stressed the importance of U.S. involvement and Washington's role in overcoming obstacles to progress, particularly in pressing Israel to make concessions.
"King Abdullah said it is important that Israel refrains from measures that would jeopardize negotiations with the Palestinians and called for an end to all Israeli settlement activities, a lifting of the blockade and restrictions on the movement of Palestinians," the embassy said.
Abbas is struggling for authority in the West Bank against the militant Hamas movement that controls Gaza. Bush hopes to achieve a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel before he leaves office in January. Abbas wants a framework peace agreement by January 2009 with timetables and specifics leading to the creation of a Palestinian state and not just a "declaration of principles" as suggested by some Israel officials, his spokesman said.
Abbas, en route to Washington, told traveling reporters he would focus his talks with Bush on achieving a real deal and not just promises.
"We seek a framework agreement that includes all the core issues and how these core issues will be resolved &
and ending with the establishment of a Palestinian independent state," Abbas told reporters Tuesday.
The core issues remain the final borders of a Palestinian state, the fate of Jerusalem, disputed Israeli settlements, refugees, water and future relations between the two states.
The White House meetings are a prelude to next month's trip by Bush to the Middle East to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel. He also is expected to visit Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
The administration had been holding out hope it could arrange a peace summit during the visit, perhaps at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik, where Bush is now set to see Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The idea was to have Arab leaders endorse an interim statement demonstrating at least some progress, officials said.
But there are deep misgivings about such a meeting among both Arabs and the Israelis given the slow pace of negotiations, and prospects for the summit are slim, officials said.
Before Abbas meets Bush, he will see Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is stepping up efforts to boost the authority of the Palestinian leader by appointing a senior State Department official to run former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Mideast office. Blair is now an envoy to the Palestinians for the international diplomatic quartet on the Middle East.
Ahead of Bush's trip, Rice is expected to travel to Israel and the West Bank after attending a Palestinian donors' conference that Blair is hosting in London on May 2. A ministerial meeting of the quartet &
which includes the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia &
is expected at the same time.
Officials said the administration, which has already pledged $555 million to the Palestinians this year, was looking at slight increases to announce at the conference, but that a major boost in aid was unlikely, as Congress has not yet approved the budget.
Jordan's King Abdullah II pays calls on Bush