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Jordan's King Calls Palestinian Ties Premature


AMMAN, Jordan — A cautious King Hussein said Wednesday that proposals for confederation between Jordan and a future Palestinian state are premature, and he predicted that it will take "a determined effort" by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to consolidate popular Palestinian support for interim self-rule in the Israeli occupied territories.

In an interview with The Times at his palace in Amman, the veteran of the Mideast peace process also said that violence is likely to continue in the territories on Jordan's western border "for some time," as Arafat attempts to win over a significant Palestinian opposition to his peace agreement with Israel.

But the Jordanian leader, who is expected to play a pivotal role in making the accord succeed, pledged, "We will continue to do our best to see it through."

Asked whether he is confident that Arafat, with whom the king has shared many differences in the past, will prevail in his campaign to garner support, Hussein said, "Only the results will tell. It needs a very determined effort, and I hope that it will be made."

Throughout the interview, the Jordanian ruler, whose nation has absorbed an estimated 1.5 million Palestinian refugees from Israeli-held lands, stressed that it is now imperative for Jordan, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization to "devise a new mechanism . . . to deal with the new realities." Among them are a host of technical difficulties ahead in implementing a plan that effectively creates a new Palestinian entity on Jordan's doorstep.

Several top Jordanian officials, among them Prime Minister Abdul Salam Majali, have complained in recent days that Jordan's name has been used on numerous occasions by both Israel and Arafat--without any direct consultations or coordination with Amman--in proposals as sweeping as that for a future Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

It was, in fact, the subject of confederation that drew the greatest skepticism from the king, who said he did not think such a grouping was feasible even when he first proposed the idea in 1972 along with two other options for a future Palestine.

"The question of confederation, or otherwise, I believe is premature," he said. "You confederate with a state. You confederate with a well-defined other entity. This hasn't occurred yet.

"When it does, I think people under conditions of freedom on both sides can enter into a dialogue, and then opt for what they see as a right solution."

But Hussein, who is among the region's most influential rulers, stressed equally that despite the obstacles, he remains hopeful "we are moving toward a new era of peace . . . an objective that I've spent many years working and trying to achieve, or contribute to."

After speaking by telephone with Syrian President Hafez Assad the previous night, the king said he believes that neighboring Syria and Lebanon, which are deadlocked in their land-for-peace negotiations with Israel, "are determined to" return to the bargaining table to work toward a comprehensive settlement, provided that it results in the return of their occupied lands.

"If there is a comprehensive peace, and a peace that people can accept and live with in the future, there is no limit to what is possible," the king said, when asked about the possibility of future cooperation with Israel and all of its neighbors on a wide array of fronts, including the creation of a regional economic common market.

And the king, who has used his Hashemite throne to push for international recognition for the Palestinians and the PLO for nearly three decades, applauded Monday's agreement between the PLO and Israel as "the major component" for that lasting peace.

"We were only too happy to provide an umbrella for the Palestinians to attend and speak for themselves," he said, referring to Jordan's persistent rebuke to Israeli demands that the Palestinians negotiate through Jordan's delegates. That decision permitted the Palestinians to represent themselves throughout the two years of talks that helped produce Monday's historic accord.

"Now the Palestinians have moved, and the Israelis have moved, and the umbrella has been folded up and put in the closet of history--an appropriate place," the king said.

Despite the decades that he has devoted to the peace process, Hussein insisted that he was "not unhappy" watching Arafat at the podium with the eyes of the world riveted on him, as Israel and the PLO signed an accord negotiated in such secrecy that not even the king knew the talks were taking place.

"I felt that the parties that attended needed to be in the limelight and enjoy their day in the sun," the king said. "Therefore I haven't been unhappy about not being there.

"As a matter of fact, maybe a day will come when we will be there to ratify a comprehensive peace in this region."

The king's adherence to the phrase "a comprehensive peace" made it clear that Jordan is still committed to Arab unity in the peace process that will resume in Washington next month.

Despite the agenda it signed with Israel during a low-key ceremony in Washington on Tuesday permitting interim bilateral agreements in a phased path to peace, Jordan has no intention of breaking ranks with its Arab neighbors.

The king did say that he expects the Arab world as a whole to reconsider its longstanding economic boycott of Israel when the Arab League convenes in the near future.

Asked to predict how long it will take to navigate the obstacles and bring even a semblance of peace to occupied territories--where clashes and killings continue almost daily--the king was particularly reflective.

"I think it will take some time to die down," he said. "Let's not forget that on either side of the divide, there are people who are not convinced that this is the right approach."

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