Leaders of Israel, Jordan Agree to Historic Meeting : Mideast: Prime Minister Rabin and King Hussein will confer in first official talks, Clinton announces. No peace treaty is expected from the event in Washington.


President Clinton announced Friday that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and King Hussein of Jordan will confer at the White House this month in the first acknowledged face-to-face meeting between leaders of countries joined by geography but divided by half a century of animosity.

“The Middle East is entering a new era,” Clinton said.

The July 25 meeting--announced simultaneously in Washington, Jerusalem and Amman--”reflects the courageous leadership and the bold vision which both King Hussein and Prime Minister Rabin have displayed as they work together to create a new future for their people and for all the region,” the President said.

Underlining the occasion’s significance, Rabin and Hussein, accompanied by Clinton, will address a joint session of Congress. The Israeli and Jordanian leaders will be guests at a White House state dinner, only the second such event since Clinton took office 18 months ago.


The Middle East breakthrough comes at a welcome time for Clinton, giving him a genuine foreign policy success to counterbalance criticism of the Administration for allegedly uneven handling of crises in Haiti and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

An Administration official said the Rabin-Hussein meeting is comparable to President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem in 1977 that cleared the way for the Israel-Egypt peace treaty, the first--and, as yet, only--pact between Israel and any Arab government.

Still, this meeting will not produce the emotional wallop of Sadat’s unprecedented initiative, officials said, conceding that it will not lead directly to a peace treaty. But it demonstrates, as one U.S. official put it, that Israel is becoming accepted by its Arab neighbors “as a normal part of the landscape.”

Following by less than a year the peace agreement between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Hussein-Rabin meeting is added evidence that the Arab world has given up on its once-singular objective of expelling the Jewish state from the region.

Hussein has met secretly with Israeli prime ministers and other top officials for more than 20 years. But this is the first time either side has publicly acknowledged the contact.

“There is great significance to the fact that it is being done openly, in the light of day,” Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told Israeli television. “This puts an end to the secrecy.


“This is an opportunity for which we have yearned for a long time,” Peres said. “This is not only an encounter at the top but a very fundamental change on the ground. This is the beginning of a new era in the relationship between us and Jordan and in the whole Middle East.”

Secretary of State Warren Christopher conceded that the Hussein-Rabin talks “will not result in the signing of a peace treaty.” Instead, he said, the talks are part of a process intended to produce Israel-Jordan cooperation on economic projects such as tourism and exploitation of the mineral-rich Dead Sea and the agricultural potential of the Jordan River valley, which straddles the border.

A U.S. official said Israel and Jordan are reversing the usual order of diplomacy between former enemies. Instead of starting with a peace treaty, Jerusalem and Amman are negotiating details of normal, friendly relations while maintaining a technical state of war.

Mid-level economic talks begin Monday in a tent pitched on the border. Christopher meets Wednesday at a resort hotel on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea with Peres and Prime Minister Abdul Salam Majali, who doubles as Jordan’s foreign minister, to prepare the way for the Washington meeting.

The sudden progress in Jordan-Israel negotiations seems to push Syria and its hard-line president, Hafez Assad, to the margins of the Middle East peace process. Israel and Syria have deadlocked over the key details of a peace treaty after agreeing in principle more than a year ago to make peace based on Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Regional experts said Assad is furious at Hussein for forging ahead and at the United States for encouraging the Israel-Jordan rapprochement. Clinton telephoned Assad on Friday morning to inform him of the Rabin-Hussein talks and to try to soothe his feelings.


But regional specialists expect Assad to retaliate in some way. In previous years when Jordan broke with Syria, Jordanian diplomats have been assassinated, presumably by Syrian intelligence operatives.


U.S. officials said they believe that Hussein will stop short of signing a formal peace treaty to minimize Assad’s anger. But they said that Hussein clearly has decided to pursue what he considers to be Jordan’s national interest without waiting for Syria to come along.

Christopher will try to push the Syria-Israel negotiations off dead center when he begins his trip to the region Sunday night. “It’s essential that (Israel and Syria) move forward in these discussions, and I am prepared to engage intensively with them,” Christopher said.

Both Jordan and Syria regard peace with Israel as a back-door way of improving their relations with Washington. Both hope to get economic assistance from the United States as a reward for making peace with Israel.

Christopher said Hussein had indicated he was ready to meet Rabin in a visit to Washington last month. At the same time, the Hashemite monarch said Jordan needs debt relief and wants U.S. weapons to modernize its military arsenal.

“We’re working with them and intend to work with them on both of those problems,” Christopher said. “The United States has always been prepared to work with those in the Middle East who are committed to peace and help achieve a peace settlement.”


Jordan owes about $700 million to the United States, an amount that the kingdom’s troubled economy is unable to repay.

Hussein’s agreement to meet Rabin is a clear victory for the Israeli prime minister, who wants his government to deal with Arab states one at a time instead of trying to negotiate a comprehensive peace with all of Israel’s neighbors.

That has been Israel’s strategy ever since the Camp David conference that paved the way for the Egypt-Israel treaty in 1979. But Rabin now seems to be the first Israeli leader since 1979 to break Arab solidarity.

The Israel-Jordan relationship has always been a curious one because the countries share so much geography and history. Both states were carved out of the territory of the British Palestine mandate, and Israel’s border with Jordan is by far its longest. Both countries have long recognized the value of joint economic development, although their frosty political relationship has made that impossible.

Jordan and Israel have a territorial dispute in the Jordan River valley, but it is less of an obstacle to peace than the Israel-Syria dispute over the Golan Heights. Before the 1967 Mideast War, Jordan controlled the West Bank and the eastern part of Jerusalem, and for years the Hashemite kingdom demanded return of those territories. But in 1988, Hussein ceded Jordan’s claim to the PLO.

Times staff writer Mary Curtius in Jerusalem contributed to this report.