Obama, Abdullah push proximity talks

Arab official: US plan can’t be proposed in a vacuum, timing crucial.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
April 13, 2010 01:55
3 minute read.
Obama meets with Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Obama Jordan's King Abdullah 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama held meetings on the Arab-Israeli peace process and Iran Monday as world leaders converged on the capital ahead of a landmark two-day nuclear security conference.

Obama met Monday morning with King Abdullah of Jordan and Prime Minister Muhammad Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia, as Vice President Joe Biden hosted the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates Armed Forces Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan.

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Obama and Abdullah spoke of Afghanistan, Iraq and Iranian nuclear ambitions, with Obama stressing the need for international pressure on Teheran. But the meeting, which was preceded by a photo op but did not include a press conference, focused primarily on the Middle East process.

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The two called for proximity talks between Israelis and Palestinians to begin “as soon as possible” and then “transition quickly to direct negotiations,” according to a statement put out by both countries. “They also agreed that both sides should refrain from actions that undermine trust during these talks.”

In addition, the statement said the leaders “exchanged ideas on ways to advance comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”

One idea that has been gaining attention over the past week is the possibility that America would present its own plan to the parties, with former national security advisers convened by current National Security Adviser Jim Jones suggesting at a recent White House meeting that the president pursue the idea.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the former national security advisers at the recent meeting, offered a more detailed view of his ideas in The Washington Post Sunday.

He called for Obama to travel to the Knesset and to Ramallah to lay out a plan and call on Israelis and Palestinians to join him, then bring Arab leaders with him to Jerusalem to underscore seriousness and the real potential for peace before the two sides. As part of the plan itself, he said, the US should make clear that Palestinians would return to a future Palestinian state, not Israel; that east Jerusalem would be its capital with international sovereignty over the Temple Mount; and that it should be a demilitarized Palestinian state with an international presence in the Jordan Valley to allay Israeli security concerns.

Though many Arab states have long argued for the US to offer a plan, Israeli officials have not been keen on the US presenting such a document because they fear it would harden the Palestinian position and be used as a basis for further demands, among other concerns.

But even a senior Arab official in Washington Monday said such a plan could not be proposed in a vacuum and that the timing must be right for a plan to succeed.

And while he argued for a robust American role in the process, saying a strong presence was essential for peace, he said a US plan should at this point focus more on benchmarks, guarantees and other American steps that would help the parties themselves move forward.

Either way, he said, “we are 100-percent convinced that Obama is fully committed to resolving the conflict.”

He added that at least for moderate Arab countries, “our message to the president is that we’re behind you and that we’re not going to leave you to do the heavy lifting on your own.”


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