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Jordan 'Encouraged' US Won't Pre-Judge Mideast Peace Talks - 2004-05-06


President Bush has told Jordan's King Abdullah that America is neutral in efforts to negotiate an end to Israeli-Palestinian violence. King Abdullah postponed this visit two weeks ago because of questions over Washington's support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan for Jewish settlements.

President Bush again backed the prime minister's plan to close settlements in the Gaza Strip and some in the West Bank while strengthening Israeli control over other parts of the West Bank that are considered Palestinian territory.

"I support the plan announced by Prime Minister Sharon to withdraw settlements from Gaza and parts of the West Bank," he said. "This bold plan can make a real contribution to peace, particularly if reform-minded Palestinians will step forward and lead toward the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state."

Palestinian leaders were outraged when Mr. Bush endorsed that plan and suggested that Palestinian refugees abandon the idea of returning to homes in Israel. They said it showed Washington could no longer be an honest broker in the peace process because it had sided with Israel.

The president Thursday sought to allay some of those fears, saying all final status issues must be decided between Israelis and Palestinians and the outcome of those negotiations will not be prejudiced by the United States.

King Abdullah was looking for a written guarantee that Palestinians who lost homes and land would be compensated as part of a final peace deal. While he did not get that formal commitment, he did say he believes the United States will allow Israelis and Palestinians to decide their own future.

"Jordan also believes all final status issues including borders, refugees, Jerusalem, and settlements should be a matter for the parties to decide," he added. "I am encouraged by what I have heard from you today, sir, that these issues are not to be prejudiced and should be mutually agreed by the parties."

King Abdullah said that Israel must withdraw to the borders it held before the 1967 war. Failing to achieve that outcome would invoke what he called "other options" which would endanger Jordanian and regional interests.

President Bush clearly values the Jordanian leader's support for a two-state solution and thanked the king for what he called his wise counsel. "He advised that I make sure the Palestinians understand my desire for a just peace, my desire for there to be a prosperous country, my desire that the Palestinian people have a chance to realize their hopes and aspirations," said Mr. Bush.

Mr. Bush said he will expand U.S. dialogue with Palestinian officials and will soon send a letter to the new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia explaining his views on ways to move forward toward the creation of a separate Palestinian state.

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