WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden hosted King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House on Monday for discussions focusing on efforts to free hostages held in Gaza and growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the border town of Rafah.
It was the first meeting between the allies since three American soldiers were killed last month in a drone strike on a US base in Jordan. Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for these deaths, the first for the United States after months of strikes carried out by such groups against American forces across the Middle East since the start of the war. Israel-Hamas War.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the two leaders would discuss efforts to end the conflict, humanitarian aid to Gaza and a “vision for lasting peace that includes sustainability of a two-state solution with Israel’s security guaranteed.
The meeting with King Abdullah II comes as Biden and his aides work to negotiate another pause in Israel’s war against Hamas in order to send humanitarian aid and supplies to the region and bring out the hostages. The White House faces growing criticism from Arab Americans face the persistence of the administration support for Israel in the face of mounting losses in Gaza since Hamas launched its attack on Israel on October 7.
Biden, joined by his wife Jill, welcomed the King, Queen Raina and Crown Prince Hussein to the White House before the leaders’ meeting. The president and the king were expected to make statements Monday afternoon.
It seemed that an agreement for another pause in fighting was getting closer. A senior U.S. administration official said Sunday that after weeks of shuttle diplomacy and telephone conversations, a framework was essentially in place for a deal that could see the release of remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for stopping the fighting.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, acknowledged that gaps remained but declined to specify what they were. The official said Israeli military pressure on Hamas in Khan Younis in recent weeks This helped bring the activist group closer to agreeing to a deal. The possibility of a deal occupied most of Biden’s call Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was going to come up in his conversations with the king on Monday.
Kirby said the United States remained opposed to a general ceasefire in Gaza, as called for by Abdullah and other regional leaders.
Netanyahu and Biden also had important exchanges over the potential expansion of Israeli military operations in Rafah and as Biden reiterated US opposition to the idea under “current conditions” while more than 1.3 million people find refuge there.
Kirby noted Monday that there were “legitimate military targets” for the Israelis in Rafah, but said the Israelis must ensure their operations are designed to protect the lives of innocent civilians.
Biden, who last week called for Israel’s military response to Gaza “on top,” He also called for “urgent and specific” measures to strengthen humanitarian aid.
The official said the Israelis “made it clear that they would not consider an operation” in Rafah without protecting the civilian population. The official said the United States is not sure there is a workable plan to move civilians out of Rafah to allow military operations to take place.
Jordan and other Arab states have been highly critical of Israel’s actions and have avoided publicly supporting long-term planning for what happens next, arguing that the fighting must stop before such discussions. can begin. They have been demanding a ceasefire since mid-October as civilian casualties began to skyrocket.
Biden had planned to visit Jordan during his trip to Israel in October, shortly after the Hamas attack on October 7. but the trip was abandoned. Returning from Israel, Biden announced he helped negotiate the first agreement to temporarily suspend fighting and open the Rafah crossing to humanitarian aid.
In the months that followed, members of his administration visited the region several times to engage with local leaders.