RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
President Barack Obama says he wants the Israelis and the Palestinians to revive stalled peace talks. He's inviting Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian leaders to the White House for separate talks this spring. Yesterday, Jordan's King Abdullah met Mr. Obama in the White House. He was there to promote the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers Israel normal relations with the Arab and Muslim world if a Palestinian state is created.
The king sat down with NPR diplomatic correspondent Michele Kelemen.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, your majesty, thanks very much for having us. Tell us about your meeting with President Obama. Do you come away with a better sense of what he's planning on doing to promote peace between the Israelis and Palestinians?
King ABDULLAH II (Jordan): Yes. And I think that the president is not only committed to an agenda to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer together, he's looking more at a regional approach where hopefully, it'll be Israelis and Palestinians, Israelis and Lebanese, Israelis and Syrians, and Israelis and Arab and Muslim partners.
KELEMEN: The climate is very difficult now, obviously. You have a new Israeli government that talks about promoting the economy of the Palestinian territories, so sort of an economic peace rather than a political peace. You have Palestinians split, rival factions controlling Gaza and the West Bank. Aren't you discouraged by this landscape?
King ABDULLAH: Well, I think historically, we always have to be optimistic. If we're discouraged, that means that we've given up. And I think for generations to come, that would be a disaster if we do.
Having said that, I think, you know, going back to the issue of Israeli initiatives to have an economic peace, that's not going to solve the problem. The core problem of the Middle East is the Israeli-Palestinian one. From that resonates all the other problems that we have. And most people in the Middle East understand that this is the core issue.
And so we've got to be very careful that if economic outreach is going to be a substitute for a two-state solution, then it's never going to work. On the Palestinian side, more than 85 percent want their Palestinian leaders to have a negotiated peace with the Israelis. Even in Israel, the overwhelming majority of the population still wants a negotiated settlement. So it's - it's really empowering the people to convince their politicians that peace is the only way out, as opposed to the other way around at this stage.
KELEMEN: And President Obama said that for now, his envoy's in listening mode in the Middle East. When do you expect to see the administration taking a firmer standard, or has it done enough to date?
King ABDULLAH: Again, listening mode is - has been very positive, and it doesn't mean that Senator Mitchell, when he goes out, just listens. We hear American views and advice, and that's been taken on very strongly. And actually, from practical steps I believe that until president - Prime Minister Netanyahu comes to Washington and the president listens to what he has to say, I think it's after that visit that you will get - don't know what the word is - a U.S. declaration, but a U.S. intention to bring both parties to the negotiation table.
But in the regional context, it allows for the first time 57 nations of the world - that's a third of the United Nations that does not recognize Israel -an opportunity to also come to the table and extend the hands of friendship to Israel.
KELEMEN: What's new about the Arab peace initiative that you brought? I mean, that's part of the Arab peace initiatives, is to have Arab countries recognize Israel as - after there's a fair peace.
King ABDULLAH: Well, it's really the most modern proposal in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict; it's the only major one that has been there since the 1970s, which basically guarantees the future of Israel. It is including Israel to be a partner in a world where a third of the world that doesn't recognize it today.
KELEMEN: But is there - is there more Arab countries can do to convince Israel that this is in its interest?
King ABDULLAH: Well, Israel, I think, is at a critical juncture - whether it wants to be ingratiated into and integrated into the neighborhood, or whether it wants to continue to be fortress Israel. And what fortress Israel means is that - no two-state solution, therefore, tension and violence between Israelis and Arabs, Israelis and Muslims, which nobody can afford. This is a small world, and we are all affected by it. So the - I think the crossroads that Israel will have in 2009 is, does it want to be a part of the neighborhood, or does it continue to want to be fortress Israel? And that's the challenge that we have, is to convince Israel not to be fortress Israel.
KELEMEN: Now, I know you're here on serious business, but I understand you got out to tool around on your motorcycle this weekend.
(Soundbite of laughter)
King ABDULLAH: It was beautiful weather, and I have some friends of mine here, and we got out and went to Harpers Ferry and to Gettysburg - a battle I've always studied and wanted to get out and see - and ended up in Baltimore, Annapolis and it was a great weekend of riding.
KELEMEN: So this is a hobby of yours, motorcycle riding?
King ABDULLAH: Well, it's one of the few adventure sports that I'm allowed to do these days.
KELEMEN: And I'm sure the security agents love it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
King ABDULLAH: Well, actually, some of them ride with us. So I think it's a bit work and pleasure at the same time.
KELEMEN: Well, thank you very much, your majesty, for your time today.
King ABDULLAH: Thank you very much.
MONTAGNE: NPR's Michele Kelemen, speaking with King Abdullah of Jordan.
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