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Jordan's King Holds Private Talks with Sharon

Jordan's King Abdullah has made a surprise visit to Israel for talks with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on the controversial West Bank security barrier and other issues. Senior Israeli officials say the Jordanian monarch sought assurances that the barrier project will not cause Palestinians to flee across the border into his country.

King Abdullah flew by helicopter to Mr. Sharon's private ranch in the southern Negev area of Israel, where they held more than three hours of discussions on Thursday.

News of their talks remained secret until reported Friday by the Israeli media.

The Jordanian monarch and Mr. Sharon declined to comment on their talks, but senior Israeli officials say the two focused on the implications of Israel's West Bank security barrier.

One Israeli official said that the visit was meant to allay King Abdullah's fears that the construction of the barrier will spark a flight of Palestinians over the border into Jordan.

Israel says the barrier being constructed in and around the West Bank is meant to stop Palestinians from crossing over into the Jewish State to launch suicide bombings and other terror attacks.

King Abdullah, who had spoken out against the project in the past, reportedly told Mr. Sharon that he is troubled by the prospect that life will become so much harder for Palestinians in the West Bank that they would rather move across the border to Jordan.

The Jordanian monarch also discussed Mr. Sharon's proposed plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank, if peace talks with the Palestinians remain stalled.

The king is said to have expressed concerns that such moves could also motivate Palestinians to leave the area.

Mr. Sharon is reported to have told the Jordanian king that Israel will continue to guard the border with Jordan and prevent this from happening. Israeli officials say the prime minister also assured King Abdullah, Israel values its peace treaty with Jordan, and wants to maintain good relations between the two countries.