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Jordanian King Optimistic Over Bush Commitment to Mideast Peace

Jordan's King Abdullah has met with Secretary of State Colin Powell at the start of a Washington visit sure to be dominated by discussion of ways to re-start Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. The Jordanian leader, who sees President Bush Friday, calls it a "very crucial time" in the Middle East.

King Abdullah, among other U.S. Arab allies, has been critical of the Bush administration's virtual freeze on contacts with Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat.

However, in a joint press appearance with Secretary Powell, King Abdullah said he believes President Bush has been committed "from day one" to helping end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

For that matter, he said he thinks most Israelis and Palestinians are frustrated and desperate to find a way out their suffering after 16 months of violence:

"When I speak about frustration, I speak about frustrations of the Palestinians people," he said. "But at the same time, I know that the majority of Israelis want to find an exit. I mean at the end of the day let's forget about the politics and the leadership. The peoples, I believe, the majority of Israelis and Palestinians, are just sick and tired of the cycle of violence and want a way out."

Secretary Powell for his part said the administration has neither severed its relationship with Mr. Arafat nor given up hope of getting a cease-fire and a return to peace talks.

But he again said that attacks on Israeli civilians in recent weeks and the apparent attempt month by Arafat associates to smuggle in a boatload of Iranian arms the Karine A affair - have complicated an already difficult situation.

"We are in discussion with Mr. Arafat and applying some additional pressure to Mr. Arafat to ask him to deal with these two issues of increasing violence and the Karine A," he said. "We will not give up hope and we'll continue to work, and will continue to work with both sides in as balanced a way as we can, to get back to a process that will lead to a cease-fire and the negotiations that we must have in due course on the basis of U.N. resolutions 242 and 338 - to arrive at a peaceful solution to this crisis."

A senior U.S. official - who briefed reporters on the talks here - said King Abdullah expressed agreement with the notion advanced by Secretary Powell that Mr. Arafat had to be "put in a corner" to make him act forcefully against extremists operating in areas under his control.

The Jordanian leader is also said to have stressed the need for Israel to ease its military blockades and other forms of pressure on the Palestinians.

King Abdullah, who meets President Bush at the White House Friday, told television interviewers that if Iraq was targeted in the next phase of the U.S. war against terrorism, it would create "immense instability" in an already troubled region.