Bush, Jordan's King Confer by Phone Over Mideast Peace Process

Olmert tells Jordan's King Abdullah during meeting in Aqaba that Israel will not build new West Bank settlements.

AMMAN - U.S. President George W. Bush discussed with Jordan's King Abdullah II developments in the Middle East and efforts to push forward the peace process ahead of his upcoming visit to the region, a Royal Palace statement said Friday.

In a telephone call to Abdullah, Bush briefed the monarch on the objectives of his trip to the Middle East, including to support the Palestinian and the Israeli sides in their efforts to reach a final compromise to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The White House confirmed the telephone call took place, describing the conversation as covering the president's trip, the Israel-Palestinian issue as well as other bilateral issues.

Bush is expected to arrive in Israel Jan. 9 and will also visit the West Bank, Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

The statement said Abdullah stressed on the vital role that the U.S. is playing to help the Palestinians and the Israelis and push them to reach lasting solutions to the final status issues which would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on all the Palestinian soil in the West bank and Gaza.

Bush's phone came one day after Abdullah met with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who expressed willingness to move forward in negotiations with the Palestinians with the aim of reaching a final settlement to the conflict.

Olmert told the Jordanian monarch on Thursday that Israel will not build any new settlements in the West Bank and will avoid further land appropriations there.

Earlier this week, Olmert told ministers in his cabinet of his intention to become more involved in the supervision of building in the West Bank.

Olmert met with Abdullah to discuss progress in the political process since the regional summit in Annapolis, Maryland last November.

In April, Olmert invited Abdullah on two separate occasions to visit Israel.

The invitation was extended twice, one in a telephone conversation, and again by Knesset Speaker Dahlia Itzik during her trip to Jordan.

Abdullah had in the past visited former prime minister Ariel Sharon's Sycamore ranch for secret talks revealed only after the meeting.

This time, Olmert invited the king to visit Israel for covert and official talks.

The Islamic Action Front (IAF), Jordan's largest political party, on Thursday condemned Olmert's visit.

"We condemn this visit, because it jeopardizes Jordan's supreme interests and runs counter to the country's declared policies," IAF Secretary General Zaki Banir Ershaid told DPA.

"Jordan should have refused receiving this criminal, because he arrived with his hands stained with blood of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip," he said.

Olmert visited Petra for closed talks in July, to discuss the two countries' relations and Hamas control of the Gaza Strip.

Abdullah urged Israel on Wednesday not to take unilateral measures that could compromise peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Red Sea resort of Aqaba, Abdullah stressed Israelis should especially avoid measures that affect final status issues.

Sarkozy in Jordan for talks with AbdullahFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy who arrived Friday in the Red Sea resort of Aqaba discussed with Jordan's King Abdullah II the current situation in the Middle East, a Royal Palace statement said.

Sarkozy's office in Paris said his weekend trip to Jordan was a private one but that it also came on Abdullah's invitation.

The statement said Abdullah briefed the French president on his contacts to rally support for the Palestinian and the Israeli sides to go ahead with their negotiation process to reach a peaceful, comprehensive, and lasting settlement of the Palestinian issue.

Abdullah has called for the talks to tackle final status issues which would lead to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state at the end of this year.

Abdullah expressed appreciation to France for its positive role in debt forgiveness in the Paris Club and its willingness to help the kingdom in developing its nuclear energy program for peaceful purposes.

The statement also said Abdullah and Sarkozy stressed their support for efforts aiming at achieving national reconciliation in Lebanon and maintaining its unity and sovereignty.