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Israel tries to make amends for Jordan comments

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JERUSALEM, Feb 23 (Reuters) Interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sought today to settle a diplomatic spat with Jordan, telling King Abdullah that suggestions by an Israeli general that the monarchy's days were numbered did not reflect Israeli policy, officials said.

The general cited a potential challenge to the constitutional monarchy from the kingdom's Palestinian majority.

Olmert's unusual fence-mending phone call, which followed a similar call by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni to her Jordanian counterpart, underscored the importance Israel places on maintaining warm ties with Jordan, a key Arab ally.

Israeli officials said after the call that Olmert and Abdullah had agreed to meet after Israel's March 28 general election, a sign, they said, that the brouhaha was behind them.

Major-General Yair Naveh, commander of Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, created the diplomatic spat yesterday by suggesting that Abdullah might be Jordan's last Hashemite ruler.

Olmert told King Abdullah in their brief phone call that Naveh's comments did not reflect Israeli government policy, Israeli and Jordanian officials said.

According to Jordan's Royal Palace, Olmert apologised to Abdullah and to the Jordanian people. Israeli officials said Olmert did not issue a formal apology.

Livni, speaking earlier on Israel Radio, called the comments ''irresponsible''.

''The government's position is clear. Relations with Jordan are strategic ties,'' she said. ''I think the army should deal with its own matters and leave policy up to the government.'' The Hashemites assumed power in Jordan after it was carved out of British Mandate Palestine in 1922. The country's native Palestinian population was swollen by refugees from the 1948 war in which Israel was founded.

Israeli media reported that Naveh's comment prompted fears in the Jewish state of a diplomatic crisis with Jordan, one of two Arab countries with which it enjoys full ties.

''Such an unfriendly remark may, if it is not corrected, have a negative impact on Jordan-Israel relations,'' the Jordanian charge d'affaires in Israel, Omar Nadif, told The Jerusalem Post.

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz's office said in a statement that he and military chief of staff Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz launched a probe into Naveh's comments.

''Israel views Jordan as a strong and stable country with a glorious heritage and promising future,'' the statement said.

Prior to the normalisation of ties in 1994, some Israeli ultranationalists had suggested that Jordan, rather than the West Bank and Gaza, should serve as a future Palestinian state.

Reuters SRS GC2339

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