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Jordan's King Says Arafat Still Relevant to Peace Process - 2002-05-08

Jordan's King Abdullah Wednesday met with U.S. lawmakers ahead of his meeting with President Bush at the White House.

Emerging from a meeting with members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, King Abdullah expressed hope that progress could be made toward reaching a cease-fire and resuming peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

King Abdullah told reporters he believes Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat is still relevant to the peace process. "Simply from the fact that he is the symbol and the representation of the Palestinian people, he is relevant," he said.

But when asked whether Mr. Arafat should be part of peace negotiations, King Abdullah said that was for the Palestinian people to decide.

A day earlier, President Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon but declined to insist the Israeli leader work with Mr. Arafat, whom Mr. Sharon says is an enemy.

King Abdullah's visit comes less than a week after the House and Senate overwhelmingly voted for a non-binding resolution expressing support for Israel's military offensive in the Palestinian territories and condemnation for the Palestinians in the wake of recent suicide bombings.

The Jordanian monarch offered a diplomatic response when he was asked about the resolution.

"I think all of us need to stand together to support peace, that is what it is all about, a future for the Palestinians and a future for the Israelis, a Palestinian state, a viable one, and an end to occupation, and at the same time, security and prosperity for the Israelis," he said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Relations Committee chairman Joe Biden, a Democrat from Delaware, underscored what he said was King Abdullah's emphasis on the role the Arab world can play in the peace process.

"I am so appreciative of his Majesty's initiative in insisting that all of us, the United States as well as the Saudis, as well as the Egyptians, as well as the rest of the Arab world shoulder their responsibilities of being in on the deal," he said.

Mr. Biden thanked King Abdullah for Jordan's help in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and he pledged to work for Congressional passage of additional U.S. aid to Jordan this year.