Israel, Jordan close to peace, Clinton says

The Associated Press

WASHINGTONÄ Flanked by leaders from Israel and Jordan, President Clinton declared that the once-warring countries "took further and very productive steps" today toward a lasting peace.

After an hour-long meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan, Clinton told reporters the pair had agreed on a series of joint ventures on the economy, environment and tourism.

The old foes are still negotiating a full peace treaty.

"The steps we announced today are the building blocks of a modern peace between these ancient lands," Clinton said in a statement outside the White House.

Hassan, who said he came to the meeting "in a mood of optimism," predicted "that we will rise together to these challenges and make good on the promise of peace."

Peres called the movement toward peace "a deep and moving change in human experience in the last part of the 20th century."

The meeting came two months after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein visited the White House and proclaimed an end to 46 years on war footing. The next step is to negotiate a formal peace treaty, an effort some officials say is still months away.

U.S. officials saw progress in the ventures announced today, although none of them came as a surprise.

Clinton said the ventures included:

An agreement on the "basic principles" on environment, water, energy and tourism issues.

Opening a new northern border crossing for third-party nationals later this month.

Convening a conference on exploring a canal project between the Red Sea and the Dead Sea. The scarcity of water in the Middle East is a major issue. They also agreed to conduct a feasibility study on the water issue, with the help of the United States.

Exploring the establishment of a free trade zone surrounding Aqaba-Elat.

"Jordan and Israel not only ended their state of war but are following through on their commitment to cooperate with each other and negotiate as rapidly as possible a final peace treaty," Clinton said.

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