Jordan's king urges U.S. to work on peace
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - King Abdullah of Jordan urged the United States on Wednesday to exert new leadership in the Middle East and said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is still the core problem.
Speaking to a joint session of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, Abdullah noted that 11 U.S. presidents and 30 Congresses had already wrestled with the dispute and said it could not be left once more to a future generation.
"Let us say together: 'No more!' Let us say together: 'Let's solve this!' Let us say together: 'Yes, we will achieve this!'" he declared.
Washington, struggling with an unpopular war that the Bush administration started in Iraq nearly four years ago, is under pressure from European and Arab allies to get more involved in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Peace talks collapsed in 2000.
The Jordanian king told U.S. lawmakers that, despite the Iraq war, the wellspring of regional division remained the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Abdullah was the first foreign leader to address a joint session of the new Democratic-led Congress, which since gathering in January has been searching for ways to wind down the U.S. presence in Iraq.
U.S. potential to help Palestinians and Israelis find peace was unrivalled, he said, "because the people of the region still regard the United States as the key to peace, the one country most capable of bringing the two sides closer together, holding them accountable, and making a just settlement reality."
The Jordanian Embassy said Abdullah made similar appeals for more U.S. engagement during a meeting with President George W. Bush. He has also met with U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and had lunch on Wednesday with U.S. House Of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Rice lists resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis as a top priority in Bush's last two years in office. But results of her recent trip to the region were modest: a promise by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to meet again soon but no fixed date.
Washington is cautious about the Palestinian power-sharing pact recently struck between Abbas and the Islamist Hamas party. It wants to continue to shun Hamas -- which won an election last year but does not recognise Israel -- and has promoted an aid embargo against the Palestinian Authority.
Abdullah's call for revived peace efforts drew a standing ovation from Congress. His recipe for peace won applause, but not from everyone in the chamber.
There should be collective security guarantees for all countries of the region, including Israel; an agreed solution to the refugee problem; a withdrawal from Arab territories occupied since 1967; and a "sovereign, viable, and independent Palestine," Abdullah said.
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