WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden welcomed Jordan’s King Abdullah II to the White House on Monday for talks set to cover the effort to free hostages held in Gaza and growing concern over a possible Israeli military operation in the border city of Rafah.
It was the first meeting between the allies since three American troops were killed last month in a drone strike against a U.S. base in Jordan. Biden blamed Iran-backed militias for the deaths, the first for the U.S. after months of strikes by such groups against American forces across the Middle East since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the two leaders would discuss efforts to help end the conflict, humanitarian assistance into Gaza and “a vision for a durable peace to include the viability of a two state solution with Israel’s security guaranteed.”
The meeting with King Abdullah II comes as Biden and his aides are working to broker another pause in Israel’s war against Hamas in order to send humanitarian aid and supplies into the region and get hostages out. The White House faces growing criticism from Arab Americans over the administration’s continued support for Israel in the face of growing casualties in Gaza since Hamas launched its Oct 7 attack on Israel.
Biden, joined by his wife, Jill, welcomed the king, Queen Raina, and crown prince Hussein at the White House before the leaders met. The president and the king were set to deliver statements Monday afternoon.
It appeared a deal for another pause in the fighting was getting close. A senior U.S. administration official said Sunday that after weeks of shuttle diplomacy and phone conversations, a framework was essentially in place for a deal that could see the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas in Gaza in exchange for a halt to fighting.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations, acknowledged that gaps remained but declined to specify what they are. The official said Israeli military pressure on Hamas in Khan Younis over the last several week s has helped bring the militant group closer to accepting an agreement. The potential for an agreement took up the majority of Biden’s call Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was going to come up in his conversations with the king on Monday.
Kirby said the U.S. still opposed a general ceasefire in Gaza, as Abdullah and other regional leaders have called for.
Netanyahu and Biden also had a significant back and forth about the potential expansion of Israeli military operations into Rafah and that Biden reiterated U.S. opposition to the idea under the “current conditions” while more than 1.3 million people are sheltering there.
Kirby on Monday noted that there were “legitimate military targets” for the Israelis in Rafah, but said the Israelis must ensure their operations are designed to protect the lives of innocent civilians.
Biden, who last week called Israel’s military response in Gaza “over the top,” also sought “urgent and specific” steps to strengthen humanitarian aid.
The official said the Israelis “made clear they would not contemplate an operation” in Rafah without safeguarding the civilian population. The official said the U.S. is not sure there is a feasible plan to relocate civilians out of Rafah to allow military operations to take place.
Jordan and other Arab states have been highly critical of Israel’s actions and have eschewed public support for long-term planning over what happens next, arguing that the fighting must end before such discussions can begin. They have been demanding a cease-fire since mid-October as civilian casualties began to skyrocket.
Biden had planned to visit Jordan during his trip to Israel in October shortly after the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, but the trip was scrapped. On his way home from Israel, Biden announced he’d helped broker the first deal to pause fighting temporarily and to open the crossing in Rafah to humanitarian aid.
In the months since, members of his administration have made repeated trips to the region to engage with leaders there.
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