- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 24, 2008


Jordan’s King Abdullah II told President Bush yesterday that 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.

Mr. 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 Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also came to Washington to see Mr. Bush. Mr. Bush and Mr. Abbas will confer today. The Palestinians and Israelis remain far apart on peace negotiations, and Mr. Abbas seeks 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.

Mr. Abbas is struggling for authority in the West Bank against the militant Hamas movement that controls the Gaza Strip. Mr. Bush hopes to achieve a peace deal between the Palestinians and Israel before he leaves office in January.

Mr. Abbas wants a framework peace agreement by January 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.

The White House meetings are a prelude to next month’s trip by Mr. 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 held out hope it could arrange a peace summit during the visit, perhaps at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik, where Mr. 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.

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