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President Obama welcomed King Abdullah to the White House Tuesday and praised the Jordanian ruler’s “modern approach” to foreign policy. But both agreed that the U.S. peace initiative in the Middle East is off to a slow and rocky start in the wake of the Israeli elections.
“What we want to do is to step back from the abyss; to say, as hard as it is, as difficult as it may be, the prospect for peace still exists,” Obama said.
On Wednesday, Obama renewed his public support in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine, but acknowledged that the idea has lost support and momentum in the region.
“Unfortunately, right now what we’ve seen not just in Israel but within the Palestinian territories, among the Arab states, worldwide, is a profound cynicism about the possibility of any progress being made whatsoever,” he said.
The Jordanian king added: “I couldn’t have said it better."
When answering questions from reporters after the meeting, Obama repeated his standard assertion that the U.S. should look “forward,” and not consume political energy in a divisive investigation of past U.S. interrogation techniques.
But Obama did say that the Justice Department would continue to examine whether any Bush administration policymakers violated the law. And he expressed hope that if Congress decided to investigate past practices, it would create a bipartisan, independent commission, rather than engage in showy congressional hearings.
Obama acknowledged that, with a divided Palestinian leadership and a new Israeli government just taking office, he’s hoping at best for “gestures of good faith” in the Middle East in the near term.
The recent rhetorical attacks by Iranian President Ahmadinejad on Israel don’t fit the bill. Obama called them “appalling and objectionable” and “harmful.”
“More listening needs to be done,” before Israel and its Palestinian and Muslim neighbors can start any real dealing, Obama said. His envoy to the region, George Mitchell, who has already made several “listening” trips to the region, “will continue to listen,” the president said, but he admitted that “at some point, steps have to be taken so that people can see progress on the ground.”
On the upside, the king said there has been “an outstanding response to the president’s outreach to the Muslim Arab world,” which could lead to “a new page” in relations between America and the Muslim world. He promised that he and other leaders in the region would help the U.S. with the “heavy lifting” of the peace process.