(photo credit: AP)
Jordan's King Abdullah met with high-level US officials Monday to kick off a visit encouraging greater American involvement in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Adbullah met with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and is set to dine with President George W. Bush on Tuesday. On Wednesday, he will become the first head of state to address a joint session of the new Congress in a speech that is expected to focus largely on the peace process. Afterward, he will meet with Arab and Jewish American leaders.
"Given the United States's proactive engagement in the region in the past two months, his majesty felt this was an important opportunity for him to address Congress and advance the peace process," a Washington-based Jordanian diplomat told The Jerusalem Post, adding that Abdullah would "better explain" the 2002 Arab Peace initiative during his visit.
The visit comes as the United States has been discussing the need for a Sunni alliance to counter the rising Iranian influence in the Middle East.
A key American ally, Jordan is also threatened by the emergence of a "Shi'ite crescent" supported by Iran, said David Schenker, a senior fellow in Arab politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. He also pointed to the problems posed by the growing number of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, an issue Abdullah is also slated to address.
Before leaving for Washington, Abdullah told Jordanian state television the US needed to act on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and prove it isn't "biased."
"It is our duty to push this great state, and others, to take balanced positions and support the peace process," he said, calling on Israel to chose between the mentality of "Israel the fortress" and "living in peace and security with its neighbors."
Judy Barsalou of the US Institute for Peace in Washington said Abdullah "might be concerned that the US is losing its ability to serve as a broker in the conflict," at a time when the region is racked by turmoil.
A statement from the Jordanian Embassy said the Palestinian-Israeli issue was "the core conflict in the region, and a solution to that conflict would facilitate the resolution of other regional challenges."