US Defense Secretary William Cohen called Tuesday for an end to fighting between Israelis and Palestinians and for the two sides to return to the bargaining table.
Cohen, who spoke after a meeting with King Abdullah II during a brief visit to Jordan, said his talks with the monarch focused on a "wide range of regional issues, but we concentrated on the need to end the violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
"It is time to stop the fighting and return to the bargaining table," he said, adding that the United States and Jordan "will continue to work together to promote peace, stability and prosperity in the region."
Cohen also met with Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb and with the chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, General Mohammad Malkawi.
He said he reiterated US intentions of providing 75 million dollars in military aid to Jordan in the upcoming year, and he commended the "positive role" that Jordan is playing in building greater cooperation among the armed forces in the region.
Since 1996, the United States has provided Jordan with 1.4 billion dollars in military aid, according to the Pentagon.
Before Cohen met with King Abdullah, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the US secretary would seek the king's opinion on how to work "against the spread of the violence to the region."
"Secretary Cohen wants to know which advice King Abdullah can give on how to proceed ... he will assure him that the next president will rely heavily on King Abdullah's advice," said Bacon.
"As long as violence escalates, you don't know what happens next ... violence creates instability, it could create destabilizing demonstrations in the region," Bacon continued.
He also accused Syria in veiled terms of stirring violence.
So far, at each stage of a Middle East tour that is taking him to eight Arab countries and Israel, Cohen has called for Israel and the Palestinians to stop the violence and return to the negotiating table.
But at each stop on his tour, Cohen has been greeted by criticism from the press, denouncing the "massacre" of Palestinians by the forces of the Jewish state and highlighting what it considers Washington's partiality toward Israel.
Last month, the United States abstained in a United Nations Security Council vote that condemned Israel for a disproportionate use of force.
Asked to comment on that, Bacon rejected "unacceptable violence on both sides."
Cohen is not a Middle East negotiator "but he has an interest in the Middle East peace process and in stability," said Bacon, adding that he "is the primary (US) contact with the leaders of the Gulf," where he is visiting for the ninth time in four years.
In Muscat, where he returned several times after visits to the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, Cohen met Monday with Sultan Qaboos, who is celebrating 30 years in power.
From Jordan he was going on to Egypt and then Israel.
Israeli forces launched air raids on Palestinian targets Monday throughout the Gaza Strip, in reply to an attack on a school bus that left two settlers dead – AMMAN (AFP)
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