King to meet Bush on Mideast peace

King Abdullah will meet US President George W. Bush at White House on Tuesday for talks on a new US push to revive the Middle East peace process.

The meeting will come a week after Bush called for moderate Arab nations to reach out to Israel, shore up beleaguered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and join an international conference to jump-start political progress.

The two leaders will “discuss the Middle East peace process and US efforts to establish an independent Palestinian state”, as well as ways to improve bilateral relations, according to a Royal Court statement in Amman.

“His Majesty will press ways to build on President Bush’s call last Monday for an international meeting to push forward the peace process between Palestinians and Israelis,” it added.

At the White House, spokesman Tony Snow said in a statement that Bush “looks forward to discussing with the King the bilateral relationship between the United States and Jordan, our mutual efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East, and other regional issues”. “The United States values our close partnership with Jordan,” Snow said.

Palestinian solution key to regional peace — Khatib

Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib, meanwhile, said Middle East peace efforts should focus on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before other issues.

“Peace with Syria is no alternative to peace with the Palestinians,” Khatib said in an interview with Israel’s liberal Haaretz daily, ahead of a visit to Israel.

“The heart of the problem in the region is the Palestinian problem, and without a solution to it there will be no peace in the region,” he said.

“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the central issue in the region.” Khatib is due to arrive in Israel Wednesday along with his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit on behalf of the Arab League.

The Arab League has tasked Egypt and Jordan, the only two Arab countries to have signed peace treaties with Israel, with trying to persuade the Jewish state to accept a Saudi-inspired peace plan.

The blueprint offers the Jewish state normalisation of ties with Arab nations in exchange for full withdrawal from Arab land occupied during the 1967 Six-Day War, the creation of a Palestinian state and a return of refugees.

Khatib cautioned Israel against any unilateral moves such as its withdrawal of troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, saying that the move had contributed to the current situation in Gaza, overtaken by Hamas more than a month ago.

“The situation in the Gaza Strip is fragile and complicated, but its origins — which many Israelis also say — lie in the unilateralism and lack of coordination with the Palestinian Authority over the withdrawal,” he said.

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