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February 14, 2018 1:01 pm

Tillerson Says US Mideast Peace Plan ‘Fairly Well Advanced’

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: Wikicommons.

The US administration’s work on a new Middle East peace plan is “fairly well advanced” and President Donald Trump will decide when to announce it, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Wednesday during a visit to Jordan.

Tillerson also signed a five-year aid package that extends US support to Jordan, a key regional ally, despite Trump’s threat to withhold support from states opposed to his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Commenting on the peace plan, Tillerson said: “I have seen the plan. … It’s been under development for a number of months. I have consulted with them on the plan, identified areas that we feel need further work.

“So I think it will be up to the president to decide when he feels it’s time and he’s ready to put that plan forward. I will say it’s fairly well advanced.”

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Trump reversed decades of US policy in December when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

The decision triggered outrage in the Arab and Muslim world, and led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to declare that he would not cooperate with the United States as a mediator.

Trump threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that backed a UN resolution calling for Washington to reverse its Jerusalem decision. Jordan voted for the resolution.

King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Amman particularly sensitive to any changes of status there.

Tillerson and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) for $6.375 billion in aid starting this year. The previous such MoU between Jordan and the United States was for three years.

“This MoU commitment highlights the pivotal role Jordan plays in helping foster and safeguard regional stability and supports US objectives such as the global campaign to defeat ISIS, counter-terrorism cooperation, and economic development,” the US State Department said in a statement.

ISIS is an acronym for the militant Islamic State group.

Conflicts in neighboring Syria and Iraq have damaged Jordan’s economy, forcing it to borrow heavily from external and domestic sources. Jordan has been an important part of the US-led coalition battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

TURKEY TIES

Tillerson is also expected to visit Turkey this week, with which US ties have become badly strained over Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, regarded by Ankara as a terrorist group.

“With respect to my meetings in Ankara, Turkey is still an important NATO ally of the United States. … We need to find a way to continue to work in the same direction. We are committed to the same outcomes in Syria,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson expressed concern over Saturday’s confrontation between Israel and “Iranian assets” in Syria. Syrian air defenses shot down an Israeli F-16 jet on Saturday after it bombed a site used by Iran-backed forces.

Tillerson said Iran should withdraw its forces and militias from Syria, where Tehran backs President Bashar al-Assad.

Responding to the comments, a senior Iranian official, Ali Akbar Velayati, said Iran’s military presence in Syria was legitimate and based on an invitation from Damascus. He called on US forces to leave Syria.

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