Lordin' It Over Jordan

Presented today with the Jordanian king's plea for an American helping hand in the roiling Mideast conflict, President George W. Bush responded with the U.S.'s new, cautious foreign policy.

"Our country is very interested in working with all parties." he said. 

But, he added, "First and foremost the violence must stop."

That response wasn't exactly the prize King Abdullah II was seeking. Considered a moderate among Arab leaders, he had come hoping that the new administration in Washington would take the reins in the peace process.

In the last year, negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians have devolved into a de facto civil war and toppled one government in Tel Aviv and show no signs of easing anytime soon.

"The United States has played a tremendously positive and important role in the peace process since its launch in Madrid," Spain, in 1991, Abdullah said shortly before his arrival in Washington. "This role remains essential, and we will be discussing how we can work together, and with regional parties to restore calm and get the peace process back on track."

Abdullah has spent the last week trying to win over key politicians and making the rounds of the media circuit to get the U.S. to take back an aggressive role.

At a photo session in the Oval Office before his lunch meeting with Abdullah, Bush implied that while the U.S. would like to be a leader in the peace process, other Arab leaders would have to use their influence to stop the violent Palestinian uprising against Israel.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick sat in on the leaders' private meeting, as did Vice President Dick Cheney, Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. 

In a television interview before the meeting, Abdullah agreed, saying "the emphasis is on the Israelis and Palestinians" to end the street battles, which have lasted about six months.

While the new approach may be more hands-off than it was under President Clinton, the U.S. certainly has not abandoned the Middle East, he said.

"The American administration feels, quite rightly I believe, that both sides need to sit down together and show that they're willing to take the risk to move forward, at which point the Americans would be there to help them," Abdullah said Monday night on "The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer" on PBS.

On an issue vital to the king and his hard-pressed economy, which used to depend heavily on trade with now-sanctioned Iraq, Bush said his administration would do what it can with Congress to try to get a free-trade agreement for Jordan on track.

On Monday, the State Department announced that Israeli and Palestinian leaders had agreed "in principle" to hold additional security meetings on how to quell violence in the region.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat told Powell during separate telephone conversations that each was willing to hold further meetings similar to an inconclusive one last week in Israel.