King warns time running out to make peace progress

 King Abdullah on Wednesday called on the international community to intensify efforts “at this stage” to revive the Middle East peace process.The King told British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a meeting here that world powers should help Palestinians and Israelis overcome obstacles hindering the resumption of peace negotiations.Blair briefed King Abdullah on Wednesday about prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

The two leaders discussed possible joint efforts to relaunch the peace process in line with a two-state solution.

The Monarch urged Britain to support the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel normal ties in return for the Jewish state’s withdrawal from territories seized in the 1967 war.

Warning that time was running out to make progress, the King said Israeli military escalation and assassinations in the West Bank were “flagrant violation”.

Israel on Wednesday clamped down on Nablus, confining tens of thousands of people to their homes, assassinated three activists, including the chief spokesman for Islamic Jihad group.

Talks between King Abdullah and Blair also focused on means to alleviate the harsh economic and living conditions of the Palestinians.

The Quartet — Russia, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations — is awaiting the formation of the new government before deciding whether to lift sanctions imposed after Hamas won elections in January 2006 and took control of the Palestinian Authority.

In Amman, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday he expects a new unity government to be formed next month as scheduled, after talks with Jordanian and European officials.

“We are working on forming a [unity] government and this will happen before the five-week deadline,” Abbas said after talks with Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit.

Abbas’ Fateh Party and the Islamist movement Hamas signed a power-sharing agreement to set up a Palestinian unity government in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on February 8, with the aim of ending a crippling Western aid boycott.

“There is a lot of work to be done until then in order to present to the world the government in the best way,” Abbas said.

Since being asked to form a new government on February 15, prime minister-designate Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas has five weeks under Palestinian law to put together and win parliamentary approval for a Cabinet.

Abbas briefed Bakhit on his recent European tour during which he said “the Europeans expressed support for the Palestinian unity government,” the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

Abbas also met in Amman with EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, who reiterated calls on the incoming government to meet international conditions to win Western cooperation.

“We have never abandoned the Palestinian people,” Ferrero-Waldner told reporters.

“We talked with the president about the Mecca agreement and we said it was an important step forward because this has helped to bring calm to a very difficult situation that might have really gone to a civil war,” she said.

“We want this government to respond to the principles of the Quartet. We have to wait a little bit to really give a judgement [on the incoming government],” she added.

The King and Blair also discussed talks on the future of Iraq expected in March, Blair’s office said.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi told the Associated Press on Wednesday that the US, Britain, China, Saudi Arabia and Iran had said they planned to attend. Syria has said it also intends to join the talks.

Also yesterday, King Abdullah met with British treasury chief, Gordon Brown, for talks on bilateral ties, particularly economic cooperation.

In another development, King Abdullah and Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora discussed over the telephone latest developments in Lebanon. 

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