BOTH Jordan and the United States came away pleased with King Hussein's visit to Washington last week. No one here, however, was pleased with the riots that forced the King to rush back home. The disturbances were sparked by Jordan's economic austerity measures and not its foreign policies or anti-monarchy sentiments, say US and Jordanian officials here. But the US wants a stable and secure government in Jordan to support Arab-Israeli peace efforts.
The US objective for the King's visit was modest - to get Hussein to support the administration's step-by-step approach to peace in the Middle East and to consider the idea of elections in the occupied territories as a way to move the process forward.
``We got a qualified endorsement of the election idea,'' a senior administration official says. ``Now we'll see if it can be made to work. We'll be trying to get the various players thinking in creative ways about translating this general principle of elections into something real.''
``We still need to put the proverbial meat on the bones,'' adds a second senior official responsible for the Middle East. This includes trying to find common ground on what the elections would be for - how they will fit into negotiations for transitional arrangements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and what the link will be to talks on the permanent status of those territories.
King Hussein and his aides made clear that they would consider supporting elections only in the context of a process leading to negotiations on the final status of the territories. They stressed that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would be the one to decide if an election proposal was acceptable, not Jordan.
A senior Jordanian official speaking at the end of the visit said the US had not presented any detailed proposals, nor had it asked Hussein to endorse the specific ideas that Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir brought to Washington earlier this month. The US asked the King only to consider the principle of elections as a way to start the process.
But the top adviser to the King gave a hearty endorsement to the deliberate approach to peace that the Bush administration favors and to its effort to move forward with an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue before trying to solve Israel's disputes with its Arab neighbors. The Jordanians emerged from their meetings believing there is more likelihood that the US can play the needed role of honest broker under President Bush than in previous years, he said.
Mr. Shamir's policies are the main roadblock to peace talks now, the senior Jordanian said, because of the major shifts in the PLO's positions. But he flagged apparent movement on Shamir's part as a result of the Israeli leader's visit to Washington. Shamir ``is using language that he's never used before. We don't know what it means exactly,'' the Jordanian said, ``but it was new language'' on elections, a political process, and final status negotiations.
EXPLORING this language and moving the peace dialogue forward is the kind of thing the US and only the US can do, he said. ``Obviously, without this US role, there is so much mistrust, suspicion, and even hatred that the parties on their own cannot get together and cannot solve their problems.''
Jordan will not play a central role in the peace process at this stage, this top adviser to the King said. But if the process gets moving, Jordan will be vital, especially as most of the proposals for final status of the occupied territories include some sort of confederation with Jordan.
At the same time, says the first senior US official cited above, Jordan and the other Arab states cannot just sit back and wait for the Israelis and Palestinians to talk. ``They need to take steps and do things that make clear to Israel that it has a place, a clear place, in the Middle East.''
The US has already started to discuss the elections concept with the PLO and Palestinians in the territories, and will be continuing talks with the Israelis. US and PLO officials had a first exchange on this last week. ``We hope they will chew on this idea in useful ways,'' the senior US official says.
Edward Walker, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East, told a congressional committee last week that the administration has ``no hard and fast blueprint at this point'' on what comes next. Talks will have to explore such basics as whether the elections will choose negotiators, representatives to municipalities, or something else, Mr. Walker said. He said he believed these concepts would be clarified by July.
Walker added that for elections to have a chance there has to be a reduction of the violence, and this means changes in the behavior of both the local population and the Israeli occupation authorities. The administration is not asking ``the Palestinians to give up the intifadah (uprising) as a concept or a symbol of what they're talking about,'' Walker said. ``What we're asking is to translate, reinterpret it from violent expression to political expression. And one way of doing that is an election process.''