President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday to cooperate closely with Jordan, a key ally in the Middle East, in order to push Israel and the Palestinians to negotiate a peace accord in a "serious fashion," even as a fresh attempt at talks shows little signs of progress.
Jordan's King Abdullah II, whose country has hosted three meetings this month between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, emphasized that the talks were in the early stages.
"We have to keep our fingers crossed," Abdullah said after an Oval Office meeting with Obama.
The Jordan meetings are taking place under the auspices of the international Quartet of Mideast peace mediators _ the U.S., United Nations, European Union and Russia. The Quartet hopes to broker a peace deal by the end of this year.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tamped down the prospect of progress this week, charging that the Palestinians "have no interest in entering peace talks."
"I'm ready to travel now to Ramallah to start peace talks with Abu Mazen, without preconditions. But the simple truth is that Abu Mazen is not ready," Netanyahu said Monday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is widely known as Abu Mazen.
Talks have been stalled for more than three years over the issue of Israeli settlement construction.
Abbas says the Palestinians will not resume talks unless Israel stops building in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, areas Israel captured in the 1967 war from Jordan and claimed by the Palestinians as parts of their future state. Israel maintains that the issue of settlements would be solved automatically once there are agreed-upon borders, and it rejects any preconditions to negotiations.
In statements following their White House meeting, Obama and Abdullah gave no indication that the Israelis and Palestinians were any closer to ending the stalemate. Instead, they simply reiterated their desire to see progress on the seemingly intractable issue.
"We talked about the importance of us continuing to consult closely together to encourage the Palestinians and Israelis to come back to the table and negotiate in a serious fashion a peaceful way forward," Obama said.
Obama said the two leaders also discussed developments in Iraq and Iran, and in Syria, where the government has waged a deadly, 10-month crackdown against opponents of President Bashar Assad.
Abdullah was the first Arab leader to call for Assad to leave power, and Obama praised him for his "willingness to stand up."
Abdullah, a favorite of Western leaders, faced some protests last year, though on a lesser scale than other "Arab Spring" movements that sprang up throughout the region. The king announced a series of political reforms in response, including parliamentary elections this year. Jordan's opposition parties alleged that elections for parliament in 2010 were flawed.
Obama said Tuesday that Abdullah has been "ahead of the curve in trying to respond to the legitimate concerns and aspirations, both politically and economically, of the Jordanian population."
He pledged U.S. support to help Jordan continue its reforms.
Julie Pace can be reached at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC