JERUSALEM - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jordan’s King Abdullah II met in Jordan last week and discussed the Middle East peace process, a diplomatic source told AFP on Saturday.

“Last week, Netanyahu travelled to Jordan and met King Abdullah II,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “In the meeting, they discussed the Middle East peace process.”

It was Netanyahu’s first trip abroad and first meeting with a foreign head of state since Israel’s January 22 general election. In December, Israeli officials were quoted by media as confirming a report in an Arab daily about a meeting between Netanyahu and the king in Jordan that focused on Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been on hold since September 2010.

Jordan and the peacemaking international Quartet sponsored several rounds of meetings between envoys from each side last year which brought no breakthrough. The Palestinians demand that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem before a resumption of negotiations, but Israel rejects any preconditions for talks.

The latest talks between Netanyahu and Abdullah II come ahead of an expected visit by US President Barack Obama, who announced he would be in the region in the spring, with Israeli media putting the date at March 20. The White House has played down speculation Obama would present a new peace initiative during his visit, stressing instead as the trip’s primary agenda Iran’s nuclear challenge and the civil war threatening to tear Syria apart.

Meanwhile, a senior Israeli official told AFP on Saturday that nuclear talks between Iran and world powers have only given the Islamic republic more time to pursue its quest for a nuclear weapon. Two days of talks on Tehran’s controversial atomic drive with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France - plus Germany ended on Wednesday. The latest round of talks, in the Kazakh capital Almaty, were aimed at breaking the decades-old deadlock over Iran’s atomic programme. “We understand that the only thing that was achieved in these talks was to give Iran more time to move ahead in its quest for a nuclear weapon,” the Israeli official said.

The official said that after the talks, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman arrived in Israel and briefed Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror over the weekend.

The US State Department had on Wednesday called the talks “useful,” while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that if Iran does not heed calls to halt its nuclear programme, it should face “a military sanction.”

Israel and much of the West believes Iran’s nuclear programme to be a cover for building an atomic weapons capability, a charge which Tehran strongly denies.

Netanyahu has repeatedly called for the world to lay down a clear red line for Iran which, if crossed, could spark harsh repercussions.

Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear power, believes Iran must be prevented from reaching a military nuclear capability at any cost, and has refused to rule out a preemptive military strike to stop it.