Hussein in Mecca to woo King Fahd

KING HUSSEIN of Jordan arrived in Saudi Arabia yesterday on his first visit since being ostracised for not supporting King Fahd against Iraq during the Gulf war.

Jordanian officials were at pains to stress in public that this was a private visit to perform the umra, or minor pilgrimage to Mecca. But such a visit could hardly be construed as private, given that King Hussein is accompanied by his Prime Minister, Abdul Salaam Majali, other government officials and three of his sons. And Mecca is, of course, the centre of the historic rivalry between the Hashemite dynasty in Jordan and the House of Saud: it is the city of which King Hussein's great-grandfather, Abdullah, was Sharif, before being ousted by King Abdel Aziz Ibn Saud in 1921.

King Fahd has until now rebuffed King Hussein's attempts at reconciliation. It is more than a year since King Hussein sent a message in which he apologised for any personal offence to King Fahd. But he met with no positive response. And Saudi Arabia, on whose financial support Jordan had depended, has refused to re-establish its links with Jordan.

Signs emerged a month ago of some softening of the Saudi position when the PLO chairman, Yasser Arafat, equally in the doghouse over his stance during the Gulf war, was allowed into Saudi Arabia. Then too the visit was described as a private one to perform the umra. But he was granted an audience with King Fahd as befits a visiting head of state (Mr Arafat being 'president of Palestine').

Privately, Jordanian officials acknowledged that a meeting between King Hussein and King Fahd was being arranged to end the rift between them.

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