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Netanyahu sees Abdullah in prelude to Obama talks
Thu May 14, 2009 8:55am EDT
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By Jeffrey Heller
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared on Thursday for what could be confrontational White House talks by visiting an Arab neighbor concerned over his reluctance to endorse Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu's meeting with Jordan's King Abdullah followed talks on Monday with Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, leader of another Arab country which has a peace agreement with Israel, who urged him to support creation of a Palestinian state.
The official Jordanian news agency Petra said King Abdullah told Netanyahu a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a pre-condition for achieving Middle East peace.
Israeli officials said Netanyahu briefed the monarch on his intention to hold economic, security and political talks with the Palestinians. Palestinians have said peace negotiations cannot resume unless Netanyahu made a commitment to statehood.
Looking ahead to the Israeli leader's meeting next Monday with U.S. President Barack Obama, Zalman Shoval, chairman of the foreign policy committee in Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, pointed to divisions with Washington.
"It is completely clear President Obama will reiterate his call for two states for two peoples, and I am certain the prime minister will not be making a declaration in the same spirit," Shoval told Israeli Army Radio.
Netanyahu, who will be making his first U.S. visit since his right-leaning government took office on March 31, will also focus in his talks with Obama on another potential area of dispute -- how to deal with Iran's nuclear program.
Israeli political sources said Netanyahu views the Iranian issue, and the need to halt quickly what Israel believes to be Tehran's push for atomic weapons, as more urgent than pursuit of an elusive peace with the Palestinians.
Netanyahu's foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said last week that world powers should take action against Iran if it did not curb its nuclear program by August.
Israel, the Middle East's only nuclear power, has endorsed Western efforts to engage Iran in talks but Israeli leaders have raised U.S. concern by hinting at pre-emptive strikes if they decide diplomacy has failed. Iran says its uranium enrichment activities are aimed at generating electricity.
Shoval, a former ambassador to Washington who advises Netanyahu but is not part of his inner circle, said there were "very pragmatic" reasons behind the new prime minister's reluctance to utter the words "Palestinian state."
"It can cause him coalition problems ... and he thinks that making declarations whose place is at the end of a process only weakens even more any Palestinian willingness to reach some sort of compromise with us," Shoval said.
A spokesman for Netanyahu declined to comment on Shoval's remarks.
Shoval forecast that despite their differences, Netanyahu and Obama would try to avoid any public rift. Continued...
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