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Olmert Seeks to Ease Jordan's Worries About Palestinian Negotiations

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert assured Jordan's King Abdullah II on Thursday that he will seek a negotiated peace with the Palestinians and meet soon with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In recent statements, Abdullah has expressed grave concern about Olmert's warning that he will draw Israel's final borders on his own if efforts to resume peace talks fail.

The king fears unilateral moves by Israel could increase instability in the region and bring an inrush of Palestinian refugees. Jordan already is home to 1.85 million Palestinians and worries about Palestinians becoming a majority.

CountryWatch: Israel

Olmert sought to allay those fears.

"Political stalemate in the Middle East is bad for Israel, is bad for the Palestinians and is bad for Jordan and the region. It is essential to avoid stagnation," Olmert said in a joint appearance outside the palace after their hour-long meeting.

"I assured His Majesty that I intend to meet with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in order to encourage the process that will enable us to exhaust progress in accordance with the road map" — the internationally backed peace plan outlining steps for creating a Palestinian state.

Israeli-Palestinian relations have deteriorated since the Islamic militant group Hamas won Palestinian parliamentary elections in late January. But the moderate Abbas, elected separately last year, contends he can bypass Hamas and conduct negotiations on behalf of the Palestinians.

Flanked by Israeli and Jordanian flags, Abdullah said there could be no substitute for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We emphasized Jordan's position that a two-state solution is the only solution that we should seek. It is a solution that must be achieved through bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that are based on the road map," he said.

It was Olmert's second trip to an Arab country since taking office in May, after meeting last week with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Both Olmert and Abdullah traveled to Washington — a key broker in Mideast peacemaking — in recent days.

Olmert is seeking support for his plan to withdraw from much of the West Bank and set Israel's final borders, with or without a formal peace treaty with the Palestinians. Under pressure from the U.S., Europe and moderate Arab states, he has agreed to try negotiating with Abbas first.

The meeting at the palace came just hours after the announcement that Jordanian-born Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had been killed by U.S. forces in Iraq.

Olmert's aides said Zarqawi's killing came up during the discussions, but gave no details.

Earlier in the day, a Jordanian official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was addressing intelligence issues, said Jordan had provided the U.S. military with information that helped in tracking down al-Zarqawi.