King Hussein's Visit Seeks to Mend Rift, Bolster Peace Process

Bush meeting likely to cover issues of aid, Jordan's role in regional reconciliation

AFTER alienating his main political and financial backer during the Gulf war, King Hussein is in Washington today to try to heal the rift and push the peace process forward.

In return for reconciliation, the Bush administration expects Jordan to ensure more strict adherence to the embargo against Iraq and to continue its key role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and furthering inter-Arab harmony, Arab and United States analysts say.

"A capping of reconciliation between Washington and Amman could signal the beginning of an inter-Arab reconciliation," says a prominent Jordanian analyst close to the government.

Jordanian officials argue that a resumption of financial aid from the Gulf states and a halt to their retaliatory measures against Jordanians and Palestinians since the Gulf war is crucial to Jordan's continued role in the peace talks.

The oil-rich Gulf states severed financial aid to Jordan and expelled more than 300,000 Jordanian expatriates, severely aggravating the kingdom's ailing economy.

Jordan's active involvement in the US-initiated peace talks has prompted Washington to resume its financial assistance, but a bitter debate continues in the US Congress over aid and military assistance to the kingdom in 1993.

In testimony before the House Appropriations Committee two weeks ago, Secretary of State James Baker III focused on the 300,000 mostly Palestinian refugees returning to Jordan and stressed that assistance was "very important to the peace process.... If we did not have the support and active involvement of King Hussein and Jordan, there would be no peace process today."

Mr. Baker referred to the king's role in securing the participation of Palestinians from the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in a joint Jordanian-Palestinian negotiating team, heeding US and Israeli stipulations that the Palestine Liberation Organization be excluded.

Jordan has carefully refrained from pursuing any action that could be viewed as defiant or obstructive to the talks. Of the four main Arab states participating, Jordan alone attended the first round of multilateral talks held in Moscow in January.

"The Jordanian behavior in the peace process has been exemplary," says Judith Kipper of the Brookings Institution. "It has been cooperative, serious, flexible, and there has been no public posturing."

US officials last week accused Jordan's partners, the Palestinians, of stalling the process by public posturing and pursuing maximalist positions. Israeli spokesmen have avoided criticism of the Jordanian delegation, focusing their attacks on the Syrians, Palestinians, and Lebanese, whom they accuse of ignoring Israeli security concerns.

But serious differences remain, which could arise during today's talks.

Jordan has consistently pressed for Israeli commitment to implementing UN Security Council Resolution 242 as a prerequisite for resolving other disputes. Although Jordan has no substantial territorial claims since relinquishing responsibility for the West Bank in 1988, it says it cannot agree on issues of bilateral concern if Israel does not agree to implement Resolution 242.

According to well-informed US experts, even though the Bush administration differs with the Israeli interpretation of 242 as not calling for more territorial compromise, it also disagrees with the Arab demand that 242 should be accepted fully at the outset. The US agrees that 242 calls for an exchange of land for peace, but says the implementation must be negotiated.

"Unlike the mandatory nature of the Security Council resolutions to Iraq, 242 should be implemented through the process of negotiations," says a US expert familiar with the State Department position.

Since the end of the Gulf war, King Hussein has urged the US to show the same resolve in pressing Israel to implement resolutions as it has against Iraq.

"This is simply unrealistic. Arabs cannot expect the US to deal with Israel the way it has dealt with Iraq. Israel is an ally," says the same expert, who asks not to be named.

Arab and US analysts here expect the US to prod King Hussein to drop his demand for the implementation of 242 and to press his Palestinian partners to abandon insistence on a Palestinian state, at least during the current negotiations.

This would put the king under severe pressure at home, where opposition to the peace process among Palestinians and Islamic fundamentalists is growing.

The king is expected to ask for a more active US role in bridging the gap between the negotiators in order to enable him to play a moderating role among the Arab parties.

US officials argue that substantive negotiations must occur before they will step in.

But first Washington and Amman must bridge their own rift.

According to some US analysts, Jordan sided with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein during the war in the hope that Iraq would prevail and undercut US standing in the region.

Jordanian analysts counter that the kingdom's stand reflected disillusionment with the US's lack of even-handedness on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the fear that Israel was, with the end of the cold war, becoming the only regional power. Iraq was seen as a possible counterweight.

Arab and US experts agree it will take a long time for US-Jordanian relations to return to pre-Gulf war closeness. Meanwhile, cooperation is once again dictated by both sides' mutual interests in the peace process and in maintaining stability in Jordan in the face of rising Islamic fundamentalist opposition and possible economic collapse.

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