WASHINGTON – On the anniversary of the Palestinian uprising against Israel, King Abdullah II of Jordan is meeting with President Bush to support the U.S. counterterrorism campaign and to urge Bush to take a more active role in resolving violence in the Middle East.
The Bush administration courted Islamic support for its campaign against terror with separate meetings Thursday by Secretary of State Colin Powell with Abdullah and with Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.
The administration also picked up words of support Thursday from Europe. Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, the current head of the European Union, visited Bush at the White House and outlined EU's plans. Later, to reporters, Verhofstadt said "we want to participate in these actions" but urged that Bush keep them focused.
Saudi Arabia has signaled its approval for U.S. troops and planes to use the nation as a staging ground for military action against Osama bin Laden and the terrorist-sheltering Taliban regime in Afghanistan. U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity Friday, said they have received tacit assurances that Saudi Arabia will allow U.S. troops to use a command center at Prince Sultan Air Base.
And, in the latest example of turning former adversaries into allies, the Bush administration disclosed that Sudan has quietly rounded up as many as 30 foreign extremists since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
U.S. officials, who spoke on condition they not to be identified, said the detained foreigners represent various terrorist organizations, but none is believed to have been involved in the suicide hijackings that left more than 6,000 people dead or missing.
Some may have had previous ties to bin Laden, the man the United States considers the prime suspect, the U.S. officials said.
Sudan, which is on the State Department's list of terrorist nations, has not announced the roundup of suspects.
In his meeting with Bush, Abdullah was expected to express caution in the U.S. campaign against terrorists. He also was likely to repeat his push for a stronger U.S. role in the Middle East peace process, stressing that greater stability in the region would leave less room for extremists.
Arab support is crucial to nurturing an international alliance against terror, and Abdullah's visit to Washington comes at a time of good feeling between the United States and Jordan.
The Senate this week approved an agreement reached last fall that effectively removes all trade barriers with Jordan. Bush signed it Friday morning, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.
The White House had debated Thursday whether to have Bush sign the pact into law during a ceremony with Abdullah. Some administration officials questioned whether such a celebration would be appropriate because of the somber tone of their meeting.
Abdullah did not speak with reporters after his 40-minute session Thursday with Powell at the State Department. The secretary spoke, however, after meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Cem, who backed the anti-terrorism coalition headed by the United States.
Powell mentioned specifically Turkey's willingness to allow American military aircraft to use Turkish air space.
"I know that in the days ahead, as our campaign against terrorism unfolds, we will be able to count on the support and active assistance of our Turkish friends," Powell said.
Cem said he was pleased to see that the U.S. government is doing its utmost "to bring this fight against terrorists to its end."
Powell also made assurances that the administration continues to be deeply engaged in the Middle East peace process despite its recent shift of focus.
He said that despite the current focus on international terror, the United States recognizes its global responsibilities. Giving priority to one subject, Powell said, "does not mean we can ignore all the others."
Powell also met Thursday with Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer. On Friday, he meets with Spain's foreign minister, Josep Pique.