WASHINGTON, July 19 (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden on Monday held Oval Office talks with Jordan's King Abdullah, a key U.S. ally in a volatile region, in the first of three face-to-face meetings expected soon with Middle East leaders.

Abdullah, who faced down a challenge to his authority in April from his half-brother, Prince Hamza, met Biden for the first time since the U.S. president took power in January. Biden called the king a "good, loyal, decent friend."

"You've always been there, and we will always be there for Jordan," he told reporters during a picture-taking session. He said he wanted to hear about developments in the Middle East from the king.

"You live in a tough neighborhood," he said.

Abdullah said his region has many challenges. "You can always count on me, my country and many of our colleagues in the region," he told Biden.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Abdullah will have a working breakfast with Vice President Kamala Harris on Tuesday at the vice president's residence. He will also meet Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.

Abdullah plays a unique role in the Middle East, seen by U.S. officials as a moderate and pragmatic leader who can play a mediating role.

He is the first Middle East leader to visit the Biden White House, to be followed on July 26 by Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi. U.S. and Israeli officials are working on scheduling a meeting soon between Biden and new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

A senior Biden administration official said the president's talks with the king were expected to touch on the way forward for Israel and the Palestinians with Bennett having recently replaced Benjamin Netanyahu as Israeli prime minister.

Tensions remain high in the wake of the 11-day war in May between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.

Abdullah's standing in his own country may come up in the talks. Jordan's image as an island of stability in the turbulent Middle East was called into question after Prince Hamza was accused of a plot to destabilize the country in April.

Biden has offered full support to Abdullah, who was joined at the White House by his wife, Queen Rania.

Other potential topics were the future of the Trump-era Abraham Accords -- the normalization deals reached between Israel and four Arab states -- negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and Syria's humanitarian crisis, the official said.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Cynthia Osterman)