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Tillerson says US work on a Middle East peace plan is ‘fairly well advanced’

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Thomson Reuters

  • The U.S. 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.
  • Tillerson also signed a five-year aid package that extends US support to Jordan, a key regional ally, despite Trump threatening to withhold funds from those who oppose his call to move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
  • Tillerson and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi signed the non-binding memorandum of understanding for $6.375 billion in aid starting this year.

AMMAN (Reuters) – The U.S. 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 U.S. 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…”

Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv.

The move 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 has threatened to cut off financial aid to countries that backed a U.N. resolution calling for Washington to reverse its Jerusalem decision. Jordan backed 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 the 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 U.S. objectives such as the global campaign to defeat ISIS, counter-terrorism cooperation, and economic development,” the U.S. 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 U.S.-led coalition battling Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Turkey ties

Turkish President Erdogan speaks during a meeting of the ruling AK Party in Ankara

Thomson Reuters

Tillerson is also expected this week to visit Turkey, with which U.S. 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 position in Syria.

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 U.S. forces to leave Syria.

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