Jordan backs PA efforts to restore security in Palestine

JORDAN ON SUNDAY said it backs the caretaker government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to bring the security situation in the Palestinian lands under control.

During talks Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit held in Amman with Fayyad, he reiterated the country’s support for the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its institutions, the Jordan News Agency, Petra, reported.

The two premiers reviewed regional and international efforts to revive the peace process, especially in light of the recent visit of the Jordanian and Egyptian foreign ministers to Israel and US President George W. Bush’s call for an international peace conference.

Fayyad, in his capacity as the foreign minister, will leave for Cairo to participate in Monday’s extraordinary meeting of the Arab foreign ministers. Foreign Minister Abdul Ilah Khatib and his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Aboul Gheit are due to present a 13-member committee set up to activate the Arab Peace Initiative with a report on the outcome of their meetings in Israel last Wednesday.

During the visit to Israel, both officials held intensive talks over the Arab peace proposal, endorsed in 2002, and relaunched in the Riyadh summit this year.

The Arab Peace Initiative ministerial committee was formed shortly after the Riyadh summit. It groups the foreign ministers of Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the PA, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Sudan and Yemen.

Fayyad briefed Bakhit on the outcome of the meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and special envoy of the international Middle East Quartet Tony Blair.

In remarks to the press following the meeting, the Palestinian prime minister said the Arab peace plan is a “good foundation” for a peace process leading to the end of the Israeli occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state.

On bilateral ties, Bakhit and Fayyad discussed means to activate economic cooperation.

They also underlined the importance of encouraging businesspeople in both countries to explore available investment and trade opportunities.

Fayyad told reporters that Jordan-Palestine ties are “excellent as always”.

On Sunday, Abbas arrived in Russia for talks with President Vladimir Putin and other officials.

Abbas arrived in Moscow on a three-day visit, the ITAR-Tass and Interfax news agencies reported. He was expected to meet with Putin on Monday.

Russia is a member of the Quartet of Mideast negotiators, which also includes the United States, the United Nations and the European Union.

The Abbas-Putin meeting will be the first since the Hamas group took over the Gaza Strip.

The visit is part of a flurry of diplomatic activities to reinvigorate Mideast peace efforts, including a visit to the region by two top US officials.

Meanwhile, Arab League Secretary General Amr Musa said Sunday that a Middle East peace conference called for by Bush should be sponsored by either the UN or the Quartet.

Musa expressed his opinion a day before the Arab foreign ministers’ Cairo meeting to formulate a response to Bush’s proposal.

“We have suggested that the Quartet should take the initiative for an international peace conference, or it should be in the framework of the Security Council,” Musa told reporters.

The Arab League chief also said the participants at the conference should focus on concrete issues, not content themselves with diplomatic niceties.

“It [the conference] should deal with the establishment of a Palestinian state and not be an occasion for salutes or greets,” he added.

On July 16, Bush proposed an international gathering be held later this year aimed at restarting peace talks. The president said his call was a “moment of choice” in the Middle East, and US officials have expressed hope that “moderate Arab countries” that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel would attend, an apparent reference to Saudi Arabia.

Musa’s remarks seem to reflect widespread Arab concern that the conference could generate significant diplomatic fanfare without tangible results. Some Arab commentators have also accused Bush of proposing the meeting to deflect attention from his administration’s problems in Iraq.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Robert Gates are scheduled to visit Egypt on Tuesday to rally support for Bush’s proposed conference in a meeting with Arab foreign ministers in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm El Sheikh.

Washington’s close Arab allies have welcomed the Bush proposal, but have stressed the importance of making the Arab Peace Initiative key to any talks.

Abbas has welcomed the proposal. Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel and remains isolated in Gaza, has rejected Bush’s offer, while Syria has said it may be “just words” for now.

A 1991 Mideast peace conference in Madrid, sponsored by Bush’s father, former president George Bush, paved the way for the Oslo peace accords and the establishment of the PA. But repeated stalemates have since left many sceptical that a repeat of that gathering would lead to a major, and enduring, breakthrough.

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