PM: I'm Ready to Negotiate Saudi Peace Plan With Arab Leaders

During Jordan visit, Jordanian king tells Olmert: Israel must first take concrete steps to improve relations with Palestinians.

While visiting Jordan Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited 22 leaders of Arab nations to convene and invite Israel to negotiate the Saudi peace plan without preconditions. Olmert added that if they were willing to invite him somewhere for talks, then "I'm ready to come."

The Saudi peace plan calls normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

"We heard about the Arab peace initiative and we say come and present it to us. You want to talk to us about it, we are ready to sit down and talk about it carefully," Olmert told reporters.

Jordan's King Abdullah, however, told Olmert during their meeting in the seaside resort of Aqaba that Israel first had to take concrete steps to improve relations with the Palestinians.

The king stressed first and foremost to Olmert that talking about new settlements or expanding existing ones is in contradiction of Israel's desire for peace, said Amjad Adayleh, the director of the information department at the Royal Palace.

Olmert told the king that such reports were baseless, Adayleh said.

He added that Abdullah also urged Olmert to lift an economic blockade on Palestinians, making it easier for them to cross borders and immediately unfreeze all Palestinian funds held by Israel.

A palace statement added that Abdullah "called on Olmert to agree with the Palestinians to put a specific timeframe to implement the Arab peace initiative over a short period."

David Baker, an official in the Prime Minister's Office, described the meeting as "very productive, warm and important."

"Both leaders discussed ways of promoting the Israeli-Palestinian process," said Baker. "The talks were very broad and in depth in which Prime Minister Olmert and the king of Jordan discussed ways of strengthening Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] and the moderates in the Palestinian Authority."

"They also spoke about humanitarian issues concerning the Palestinians," added Baker.

Olmert, who participated in a conference of Nobel laureates in Petra, answered the questions of author Elie Wiesel from the podium, saying that Israel's politics consists of an unending battle against attempts to irritate the government.

In regard to last year's war in Lebanon, Olmert said that the lesson learned from the Second Lebanon War is that when a powerful terror organization begins gaining sophisticated weapons and declares its intentions to use them, "it must be taken seriously. Don't go to sleep hoping that it won't follow through on its threat."

Olmert added that he is concerned over the safety of Israel's children, and the pain of the Palestinian children. "When I decide not to respond to Qassam fire, it is because I am not convinced that a response would not end up killing a 12-year-old girl who didn't commit any crime, only he who fired the Qassam took her in his jeep."

Vice Premier Shimon Peres will meet with Jordan's king separately next Sunday during the World Economic Forum conference which will take place in Jordan. Peres will discuss with the king his plan to build a channel stretching from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea and to establish economic and tourist enterprises along it, with the cooperation of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Upon his return to Israel, Olmert is expected to participate in a large-scale military drill simulating a multi-front attack.