WASHINGTON — U.S. President Barack Obama said Tuesday it was "more vital than ever" to work to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts even as political upheaval engulfs much of the broader Middle East.
Speaking after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah at the start of a week of intense diplomacy, Obama pledged to keep pressing for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, despite his failure so far to break the impasse.
But Obama, who wants to reconnect with an Arab world showing signs of frustration with his approach to the restive region, offered no new concrete ideas for advancing the long-stalled peace process.
The president plans to deliver a major policy speech on the "Arab spring" on Thursday, meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday and address an influential pro-Israel lobbying group on Sunday.
With the Jordanian monarch sitting at his side in the Oval Office, Obama suggested that unrest sweeping the Middle East offered a chance for Israel and the Palestinians to seek progress toward resolving their own long-running dispute.
"Despite the many changes -- or perhaps because of the many changes that have taken place in the region -- it's more vital than ever that both Israelis and Palestinians find a way to get back to the table and begin negotiating a process whereby they can create two states living side by side in peace and security," Obama told reporters.
Obama is struggling to counter perceptions in the Arab world of an uneven U.S. response to a wave of popular uprisings in the region and deepening disarray in his Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking strategy.
He is seeking to use the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, which for now has boosted his standing at home and abroad, as a chance to reach out to a large Arab audience.
Obama and Abdullah also sought common ground on the unrest that has gripped the Arab world, toppling autocratic U.S. allies in Egypt and Tunisia and engulfing Libya in civil war.
The Jordanian monarch has faced a spate of protests demanding curbs on his powers but not nearly of the magnitude confronting neighbors like Syria, Yemen and Bahrain. He replied in March by sacking his unpopular prime minister and opening to door to constitutional reforms.
Trying to show that reforms by Washington's autocratic allies in the region will not go unrewarded, Obama praised Abdullah and said the United States would help Jordan with fresh economic and food aid.
Obama has taken a cautious approach, expressing support for democratic aspirations in the region while trying to avoid upsetting longtime partnerships seen as crucial to fighting al Qaeda, containing Iran and securing vital oil supplies.
The king, a U.S. ally and key player in past U.S.-led peace drives, made clear he wanted to see a renewed peace push from Obama, calling it the region's "core issue." Jordan and Egypt are the only Arab states with peace treaties with Israel.
"We will continue to partner to try to encourage an equitable and just solution to a problem that has been nagging the region for many, many years," Obama said.
But Obama, whose attempts to broker a peace deal have yielded little since he took office, has no plans to roll out a new initiative during the latest diplomatic flurry.
Many Israelis are already unsettled over the implications for the Jewish state from unrest in the broader Middle East, and a new reconciliation deal between the mainstream Palestinian Fatah faction and its rival, the Islamist Hamas movement, has raised further doubts about peace prospects.
Netanyahu said on Monday a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas -- which Israel and the United States brand a terrorist group --- could not be a peace partner.
The risk for Obama is that pushing Israel for concessions could alienate the Jewish state's base of support among the U.S. public and in Congress as he seeks re-election in 2012.
But in the absence of progress on the diplomatic track, the Palestinians are threatening to seek the U.N. General Assembly's blessing for a Palestinian state in September, a path that alarms Israel and is opposed by Washington.
Deadly clashes on Israel's borders on Sunday underscored the depth of Arab anger over the conflict. The resignation of Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, raises further doubts about peace prospects.
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