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Creeping Toward Peace: Israel, Jordan Announce Ventures but Not a Treaty

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Despite anticipation of movement toward a peace treaty between Israel and Jordan, Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Jordan’s Crown Prince Hassan broke no significant new ground at their White House meeting this week.

The two countries did, however, continue to creep toward a full peace at their Monday morning session. The meeting produced concrete programs to implement economic development, increase tourism and study water resources.

Although the two sides have failed to agree on some of the larger issues standing in the way of a peace treaty, including border demarcation and water rights, Peres called the agreement “more than I had hoped for.”

And in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin told the Knesset he expected a full peace treaty to be signed with Jordan by the end of the year.

Peres’ meeting with Clinton and Hassan in Washington capped a 10-day visit to the United States which centered primarily on meetings at the United Nations with foreign ministers and diplomats from dozens of countries.

A highlight of the meetings, which coincided with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, was Tunisia’s decision to exchange an economic interest section with Israel.

‘THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF PEACE’

Speaking at a news conference in the White House driveway after an hour-long meeting with the Israeli and Jordanian officials, President Clinton called the progress between Israel and Jordan “the building blocks of a modern peace between these ancient lands.”

A joint communique by Clinton, Peres and Hassan signed Monday expands on goals established at earlier meetings in June and during the July 25 summit between King Hussein and Rabin in Washington, when the two leaders officially declared an end to their state of war.

Israel, Jordan and the United States formed a Trilateral Economic Committee one year ago to look at avenues for cooperation.

Under the agreement reached this week, businesspeople and some economic reporters will be able to travel back and forth between Israel and Jordan to discuss joint ventures beginning immediately. Peres and Hassan also agreed to explore the possibility of establishing a free-trade zone around Aqaba and Eilat.

In addition, with the help of U.S. grants, Jordan and Israel will commission a study on a Red Sea Marine Peace Park and convene a symposium on the feasibility of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.

Israel and Jordan also agreed to consider erecting dams on their borders to ease the crunch of scarce water supplies. At a briefing after the White House meeting, Israeli officials said the dams would cost between $80 million to $120 million and estimated the price tag of a final solution to the region’s water problems at $13 billion.

The two nations also agreed to open another border crossing in northern Israel. The border is slated to be opened Oct. 15 by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who will be returning to the region for Mideast peace talks.

The two sides also agreed to continue discussing an Israeli proposal to set up a Middle East regional bank to help fund some of the projects.

This week’s agreement comes only weeks before Israel and most of the Arab states will convene an economic conference on the Middle East in Casablanca, Morocco.

The agreement clears the way for Israeli and Jordanian officials to seek outside funding for many of the projects.

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