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US President George W. Bush will stress in his talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Tuesday the need to consult with Jordan before moving to change the situation on the ground in the West Bank.
A senior administration official said, in preparation for the Israeli prime minister's visit, that Bush intends to ask Olmert about the role that Israel sees for Jordan in any decision regarding the West Bank, and noted that the issue of the future of the border along the Jordan River has to do not only with Israel and the Palestinians, but also with Jordan.
The need to consult with the Jordanian kingdom became even more important over the weekend, following a letter sent by Jordan's King Abdullah to Bush.
In his letter Abdullah warns against endorsing the Israeli unilateral withdrawal plan, which Olmert is expected to discuss with Bush in their Tuesday meeting.
"Unilateral action will have negative repercussions on the Palestinians, Arab and Muslim countries," Abdullah wrote Bush. The Jordanian monarch also wrote to Bush that any further deterioration in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would have adverse affects on the kingdom.
The US also wants Israel to engage in talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on issues regarding the border crossings between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and on providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.
At the same time, a senior administration official emphasized that the US did not support Abbas's request to open discussions with Israel on the final-status solution and said the administration was "dubious" about that proposal.
Olmert will leave Israel after Sunday's cabinet meeting and will begin his talks in Washington Monday, with a working dinner with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He will hold a working meeting with Bush on Tuesday, followed by a joint press conference and then the two will dine together at the White House.
Bush will not endorse or reject Olmert's convergence plan and will only present Olmert with questions regarding it.
According to a senior administration official, there are some two dozen questions still open. The main issue that Bush would like to hear about in regards to convergence is: "Is the plan compatible with a negotiated two-state solution and if yes, how is it compatible."
The US is not setting a definite timetable for moving forward with either unilateral or bilateral steps and believes that there is sufficient time to pursue both avenues before the actual moves of disengagement are seen on the ground.
The administration still believes that the pressure on Hamas can bear fruit and that the organization might still change, or lose power. "The pressure is building," said the senior official, adding that if a partner does emerge on the Palestinian side then it would change the entire situation regarding the peace process.
The US sees little actual movement to implement the convergence plan in the next year and estimates that Israel would not be ready to actually move settlers before the end of 2007 or the middle of 2008.
By that time, the US would like to hear more answers to questions regarding the convergence from the Israelis before it decides if it will support the move or not. "This is not a plan yet, it is a concept," said a senior US official referring to Olmert's idea of unilaterally leaving parts of the West Bank and setting a border along the security fence.
On the agenda for Bush's meeting with Olmert is also the question of providing assistance to the Palestinians. The Quartet members are scheduled to meet Wednesday to discuss the temporary mechanism of providing aid to the Palestinians, and sources speculate that they will agree on a system in which European money will be allowed to provide "stipends" or "allowances" to health care workers in the PA.
Bush is expected to stress in his meeting with Olmert that the US is firm on its policy of "no money, no ties" with the Hamas-led PA.