Jordan's king sees Bush in bid to move from curbing violence to making peace in the Middle East

Friday, February 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ King Abdullah II of Jordan praised President Bush's campaign to counter terrorism Friday and said other countries ``better make up their minds pretty quickly'' to join.

Welcoming the endorsement in the Oval Office, the president cautioned that ``all options are on the table on how to make our allies more secure.''

Bush also admonished Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for the attempt by the Palestinians to smuggle in 50 tons of weapons from Iran.

He said the rockets, mortar and explosives were intended ``for terrorist purpose'' and that the smuggling, which Israeli commandos aborted in the Red Sea on Jan. 3, was contrary to a promise by the Palestinian leader that he would fight against terror.

Calling on Bush at the White House, Abdullah supported the president's designation of three countries, Iran, Iraq and North Korea, as an ``axis of evil.''

It was a significant step for the Arab monarch. Jordan sits alongside Iraq in the restive Middle East and is inclined to be careful about irritating its larger neighbor. During the Persian Gulf war a decade ago, for instance, Jordan sided with Iraq while most Arab countries supported the U.S. campaign to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi annexation.

``It is very obvious that there are those on the side of good and those on the side of bad and some in the middle, who haven't made up their minds,'' the king said during an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office. ``And those countries better make up their minds pretty quickly.''

Bush at his side, Abdullah said there was a new expectation about what countries must do in the anti-terror campaign spearheaded by the United States.

The president agreed. ``I hope nations make the right decision,'' Bush said. ``A wrong decision would be to continue to export weapons of mass destruction.''

However, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, after meeting with Vice President Dick Cheney, questioned whether there was enough evidence to label the nations an ``axis of evil.'' Said the prime minister: ``That is what has to be verified.''

Bush said he was open to a dialogue with North Korea. He called on the reclusive Pyongyang regime to ``pull back some conventional weaponry'' on the Korean peninsula and ``make a clear declaration of their peace intentions.''

The president steered clear of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's statement this week that he regretted not having killed Arafat. Instead, Bush suggested it was best to keep the focus on ``what derails peace, and what derails peace is terror.''

And he sidestepped whether Arafat should be removed.

``I think what we need to do is to fight terror on all fronts in the Middle East'' so peacemaking efforts may begin, Bush said.

``And Mr. Arafat must do a better job. We believe he can do a better job.''

Even before calling on Bush for a breakfast meeting, Abdullah praised the president's approach to the tangled Middle East situation.

The session with an Arab leader projects for Bush a message that even while putting pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the administration is mindful of Arab sentiments.

Abdullah, whose late father, King Hussein, was pivotal to U.S. peacemaking, has kept Israel at arm's length but also has maintained only a distant relationship with Arafat.

In Jordan, where Palestinian Arabs are in the majority, Abdullah is trying to turn around a weak economy with a program to bring change to the economy and social justice to the society.

Bush, meanwhile, has made clear his disappointment with Arafat and has invited Sharon to the White House next week, his fourth visit in less than a year.

Abdullah, after meeting Thursday with Secretary of State Colin Powell, said Bush was striking ``a fair balance'' designed to find a way out of violence and toward peace and stability for Israelis and Palestinians.

``The president, in his heart, I know wants to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinians and give hope and security to the Palestinians,'' Abdullah said.

The praise could strengthen Bush's hand with the Arabs as he pursues a strategy of pressuring Arafat to curb Palestinian attacks on Israel, while offering assurances he intends to follow through on his endorsement of Palestinian statehood.

Criticism of Israel has been negligible in recent weeks; criticism of the Palestinian leader has escalated.

``Obviously, the ongoing cycle of violence has been a tremendous obstacle to us all,'' Abdullah said at a joint news conference with Powell.

The king has lent his support in his three years on the throne to Palestinian calls for an independent state.

The Bush administration has sidetracked U.S. mediation between Israel and the Palestinians until violence subsides.

Next week, Ahmed Qureia, speaker of the Palestinian parliament, is due to see Powell and discuss ``how to find ways and means to go back to the negotiating table,'' said Hassan Abdel Rahman, the senior Palestinian official in the United States.

Powell was meeting Friday in New York with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who for years has favored Israeli concessions to Arafat's Palestinian Authority.