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Bush to Meet with Jordanian King in Washington - 2004-05-05

President Bush meets Thursday with Jordan's King Abdullah. Talks are expected to center on the Middle East peace process.

King Abdullah was originally set to meet with President Bush two weeks ago. But those talks were postponed at the last minute.

The postponement came after President Bush announced his support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to remove Jewish settlers from Gaza and four remote settlements in the West Bank.

In backing the so-called disengagement plan, Mr. Bush also said given the situation on the ground and the establishment of large Israeli communities in some areas, it is not realistic to expect Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders. He also said if negotiations lead to a Palestinian state, there will be no need for Palestinian refugees to return to Israel.

Prime Minister Sharon may have won the president's endorsement, but he failed to win the support of his own Likud Party.

All the same, Mr. Bush said Wednesday that he is optimistic about the prospects for peace in the region. "What the prime minister of Israel did was take a political risk, obviously he did. I mean, his own party condemned the statement, condemned the policy. However, I think it was the right thing for him to do and we support peace in the Middle East and we support the vision of two states living side by side in peace," he said.

Speaking on the eve of the talks with King Abdullah, the president said this is an historic moment and a good opportunity. "And now is the time to make progress and I believe we can," he said.

The comments came in an interview with the U.S.-backed Al-Hura Arabic television network. Mr. Bush commended the work of the so-called quartet which has been trying to move the peace process forward. The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia comprise the quartet, which is pushing a peace plan called the road map.

Envoys from the quartet met Tuesday at U.N. headquarters and urged Israel to pursue the disengagement plan. At the same time, they stressed the most sensitive issues, such as final borders and refugees, must be settled by both sides and not by Israel alone.

There are indications the White House may be drafting some sort of letter to King Abdullah about the peace process that will include the sentiments expressed by the quartet. The Jordanian leader had asked for some kind of written assurances that Palestinians would be compensated for any loss of homes or lands in a final settlement. It is not clear if the Bush administration is willing to go that far.