Politics

Biden says 'key elements' of a Gaza deal are on the table as he meets with Jordan's King Abdullah

WASHINGTON — (AP) — Declaring that "every innocent life lost in Gaza is a tragedy,” President Joe Biden welcomed Jordan’s King Abdullah II to the White House Monday for talks on how to end the months-long war and plan for what comes afterward.

The meeting with Abdullah 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 rising casualties in Gaza since Hamas launched its Oct 7 attack on Israel.

“The key elements of the deal are on the table,” Biden said alongside the king, though "there are gaps that remain.” He said the U.S. would do “everything possible” to make an agreement happen: a pause to fighting for at least six weeks and the release of the remaining hostages held by Hamas.

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. 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.

Abdullah said Biden's leadership was “key to addressing this conflict,” as he raised the plight of the tens of thousands of civilians killed and wounded in the fighting.

“We need a lasting cease-fire now," the king said. “This war must end.”

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's stance marks a subtle but notable break for the president, who has continued to oppose a permanent cease-fire. His administration has insisted that Hamas not retain political or military control over Gaza after the war — a key objective of the Israeli operation to prevent a repeat of the Oct. 7 attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis and saw about 250 taken hostage.

Israel's offensive has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians in the territory, displaced over 80% of the population and set off a massive humanitarian crisis. Gaza's Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between combatants and civilians, has said the majority of those killed are women and children. Israel claims to have killed about 10,000 Hamas fighters but has not provided evidence.

Biden repeated his warning that Israel must not launch a full-scale attack on Rafah, the last major holdout of Hamas where more than 1.3 million people are sheltering unless it devises plans to safeguard the civilians there from harm's way. Earlier Monday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby acknowledged there were "legitimate military targets" for Israel in Rafah, but said the Israelis must ensure their operations are designed to protect the lives of innocent civilians. Officials have 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.

Biden, who has held out hope for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, added that he and the king discussed the need for the Palestinian Authority, which has some control over parts of the West Bank, to “urgently reform” to be ready to assume some authorities in Gaza if Hamas is removed from power. “They must prepare to build a state that accepts peace, does not harbor terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” Biden said.

Abdullah insisted that “Separation of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be accepted.”

Earlier Monday, Biden, joined by his wife, Jill, welcomed the king, Queen Rania, and crown prince Hussein at the White House before the leaders met.

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.

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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AP writers Seung Min Kim and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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