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Hussein to Meet with Clinton In Plea to Save Peace Process

By Robin Wright
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

Amid growing tension in the Middle East, Jordan's King Hussein is to meet President Clinton and other top U.S. officials Tuesday as part of desperate efforts to prevent the region's peace process from further unraveling.

Hussein has maintained warmer relations with new Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 than any Arab leader. But he is expected to warn the administration that other Arab leaders are reaching a point where they feel forced to freeze the peace process and halt direct dealings that some have tentatively begun with Israel, according to Jordanian officials.

"The King is deeply disturbed by the policies and actions of the (Netanyahu) government which he does not consider conducive to peace," said a senior member of his entourage.

This weekend, Arab League foreign ministers recommended that the group's 22 members stop trade and other contacts aimed at normalizing relations with Israel. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had appealed to the league to make the recommendation in response to a plan by the Netanyahu government to build a housing project for Jews in east Jerusalem.

Groundbreaking for the housing project and a terrorist bombing on March 21 at a Tel Aviv cafe have combined to thwart the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Hussein, who in 1994 became the third Arab leader to a sign a peace accord with Israel, also is expected to relay growing Arab concern that Netanyahu may not accept the land-for-peace premise of the 1993 Oslo accord that set in motion serious negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders. And without land, the Arabs will be unable to support the current peace process.

On Monday, Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were briefed on the Middle East situation by U.S. mediator Dennis Ross, who met last week with Arafat in Morocco and Netanyahu in Israel. White House spokesman Mike McCurry described Ross' report to Clinton as "a sober one."

Hussein, along with his warnings about overall Middle East situation, is expected to press for U.S. help on his domestic front. The Jordanian leader feels increasingly exposed at home both because of his ongoing dealings with Netanyahu and his decision last year, made under U.S. pressure, to take a tougher stance against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The king plans to ask for $250 million in U.S. aid annually for five years to help develop a new regional economic model in a "fruits of peace" program designed to show the dividends of his positions to the man on the street, senior U.S. officials said Monday.

Jordan's increased relations with Israel have not produced the anticipated economic or political benefits for it, according to Jordanian cabinet officials. The links were expected to boost Jordanian exports by $200 million as Palestinian and Israeli markets opened up.

"Israeli good will has not translated into action," said Jordanian Planning Minister Rima Khalaf.

The anticipated boost in trade was critical because King Hussein's shift in policy toward Iraq cost Jordan an estimated $200 million in lost export revenues and business last year, according to Jordanian officials.

The king not only reduced his nation's trade with Iraq, but he called on Iraqis to change their leadership and offered sanctuary to those opposing Saddam Hussein.

But in moves that have alarmed Washington, Iraq has been taking a tougher approach in its dealings with Jordan. This winter, it renegotiated terms of a favorable oil-export deal that increased the price for Jordan by at least $80 million, according to U.S. officials. The price is still some $300 million less than if the oil purchases were made on the open market, but the unexpected hike hurt Jordan's struggling economy.

"We're trying to graduate from dependence on foreign aid," said Khalaf, the Jordanian planning minister. "But we're more vulnerable than anyone in the region except the Palestinians, and we can't get beyond this problem unless we have an extra push."