- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 15, 2005

President Bush yesterday called on Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization, to prove otherwise by disarming in Lebanon and forswearing attacks on Israel.

“We view Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they’re not by laying down arms and not threatening peace,” Mr. Bush said during an Oval Office meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

“One of our concerns the majesty and I discussed is that Hezbollah may try to derail the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians,” he added. “And it’s very important that this peace process go forward.”

The president was scheduled to meet today with the patriarch of Lebanon’s Maronite church, Nasrallah Sfeir, who wants to integrate Hezbollah into the country’s political mainstream. Mr. Sfeir, a major figure in Lebanon’s Christian opposition, is also an outspoken critic of Syria’s occupation of Lebanon.

“My meeting with the patriarch is in no way embracing any religion for Lebanon,” said Mr. Bush, who is loath to define the war on terrorism as a conflict between Christians and Muslims. “It is a way for me to speak to people that believe the Lebanese society ought to be free.”

Mr. Bush and King Abdullah also endorsed efforts by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to broker a one-year truce between Israel and Palestinian militants. The proposal was discussed by Palestinian and Egyptian officials yesterday in Cairo.

“I believe President Abbas is desirous of developing a state that will live side by side with Israel in peace,” the president said.

King Abdullah said he is “very supportive of President Abbas.”

“I think he’s a man of his word, and I think that you’ll see him give 110 percent to deal with the security issues and to push the process forward,” he said.

To that end, Mr. Bush reiterated his call for Israel to pull out of Palestinian territories.

“Israel must withdraw from the settlements,” he said. “There must be contiguous territory for a Palestinian state — into which a Palestinian state can grow.

“The Palestinians, in their part, must continue to work hard to fight any terrorist activities within the territories,” he added. “And the Arab world must continue to work together to help Palestine build the necessary structures for democracy.”

King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to meet with Mr. Bush since the president declared a “thaw” in the Middle East, which is showing signs of democratization.

Although King Abdullah reinstated Jordan’s parliament in 2003, he retains the right to dissolve it. Still, he was praised yesterday by Mr. Bush.

“His majesty leads a great country in the midst of a part of the world that is changing, changing for the better,” he said. “And I want to thank his majesty for his leadership, his understanding about the need for reform.”

King Abdullah told reporters that he and the president had discussed “our commitment to a regional reform.”

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