Analysis: Bush Administration's Policy on the Middle East Angering Many in Arab World; King Abdullah Cancels a Meeting With Bush

All Things Considered: April 20, 2004

Jordan, U.S. Ally, Makes Point over Israel

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Bush was snubbed this week by one of the closest allies of the US in the Arab world. Jordan's King Abdullah flew home from California instead of going to the White House for a scheduled visit. He left his foreign minister to meet with US officials in Washington today to clarify a US policy shift on the Middle East. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, that policy change has angered many in the Arab world.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

The diplomatic dispute was touched off last week when President Bush embraced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to pull settlements out of Gaza, but hold on to parts of the West Bank. Previous US administrations called settlement building an obstacle to peace; President Bush called it a new reality. Jon Alterman, of The Center for Strategic & International Studies, says these statements, plus the killing of another Hamas leader over the weekend, made it politically impossible for Jordan's king to visit.

Mr. JON ALTERMAN (The Center for Strategic & International Studies): To have King Abdullah come now would make it seem that King Abdullah endorsed the American position. And by holding back and effectively snubbing the president of the United States, King Abdullah gains credibility as somebody who carries the Arab banner instead of surrenders it.

KELEMEN: Another key Arab ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, says that Washington's support for Israel and the war in Iraq have made Arabs hate Americans more than ever. Mubarak told the French daily Le Monde that there's a sense of injustice in the Arab world, an idea echoed by Rami Khouri, executive director of The Daily Star in Lebanon.

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Executive Editor, The Daily Star): It's really very significant when Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah make these kind of gestures. They're designed mainly to make the point to the US that, `Look, we Arab leaders are caught in a terrible situation, because our people are increasingly angry at Israel and the US and we the leaders are very friendly to the US and this is putting Arab leaderships in an untenable situation.'

KELEMEN: Khouri described the Bush administration's action last week as arrogant.

Mr. KHOURI: The message that President Bush sends is that the US and Israel unilaterally determine the outcomes of these things. Where what the Arabs are saying is this cannot be an American-Israeli initiative; it must come out of a negotiation between all the parties.

KELEMEN: Secretary of State Colin Powell insists the US is still committed to the internationally backed peace plan known as the road map and to a future Palestinian state. When asked about Mubarak's concerns and King Abdullah's snub, Powell repeated his view that the Arab world should see Israeli plans to pull settlements out of Gaza as an opportunity.

Secretary COLIN POWELL (State Department): The Middle East peace process was not moving. And with the initiative that was taken last week by the president, we are now looking at the possibility of settlements being evacuated, something that people have asked for and wanted for a long time. And it will be done ultimately with mutual agreement between the parties on the final status issues.

KELEMEN: Powell made the case directly to Jordan's foreign minister, Marwan Muasher.

Mr. MARWAN MUASHER (Foreign Minister, Jordan): I was very reassured by what the secretary and the US administration has stated regarding the need not to prejudge final status issues, but to leave that to the parties themselves. We both agree that the Israeli plan should be part of a bigger effort towards a two-state solution, which should be the really only acceptable outcome of this process.

KELEMEN: These are themes likely to be repeated often as the US tries to ease tensions with Jordan before King Abdullah's rescheduled visit in early May. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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