When United States Secretary of State James Baker III visits the Middle East this week, one leader noticeably absent from his talks will be Jordan’s King Hussein.
Although the U.S. and Jordan have in the past cooperated closely on regional issues, the two countries experienced a falling out over the question of Jordan’s neutrality during the Gulf war. Despite the current rift, however, interests common to both countries are likely to determine future relations, Western officials here say.
Both recognize that the other will be essential to any lasting postwar arrangement, Jordanian and Western diplomats here say. With that in mind, U.S. officials are already reviewing their decision announced by President Bush early last month to freeze $75 million in aid to Jordan, Western sources say.
Senior Jordanian officials are less sanguine about establishing warmer relations with the U.S. in the near term.
That will depend largely on the terms the coalition demands from Iraq in settling the Gulf war, and whether the U.S. and other coalition countries put pressure on Israel concerning its occupation of Arab territories also in violation of United Nations resolutions, they say.
Equal treatment demanded it. “It is not enough just to look at the area under a series of bilateral terms with preferential treatment,” says Awn al-Khasawneh, a senior Foreign Ministry official and advisor to Crown Prince Hassan lbn Talal.
“We hope that there will be greater resolve to address the Palestinian question on the basis of international legitimacy,” he says.
Jordanian officials maintain that their policies have been consistent, having advocated a political settlement to both the Iraqi-Kuwaiti and Israeli-Palestinian disputes.
Jordan opposed both occupations and never recognized Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, they say, arguing that Mr. Bush’s characterization of King Hussein as having taken a “pro-Iraqi tilt” was unfair.
“It is a question of perception,” says Khasawneh. “We think the perception the West has of us is wrong. Jordan has not been an apologist for Iraq, but an apologist for peace.”
“We feel very bitter and sad that the concern for the people of Iraq and their suffering has been interpreted as trying to frustrate coalition aims,” he adds.
Although senior U.S. officials felt personally insulted by the king’s speech three weeks ago condemning Western military action, they understand the king was responding to strong domestic pressures, Western sources say.
The Jordanian populace, more than 50 percent Palestinian, has been overwhelmingly pro-Iraq throughout the crisis.
“He [the king] is in tune more or less with his people, much more than any other Arab leader,” says another Western diplomat.
Washington is not about to underestimate King Hussein’s role in the region’s stability. He will be a useful interlocutor among Arab countries to help mend fences, Western officials say, and will continue to be essential to any formula for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“He might be isolated from the West now, but the West will need him,” says the Western diplomat.
Divisions between Arab and West must first be overcome, however, Khasawneh says. “Deep wounds have been inflicted on a sister Arab state, and we can’t expect people to switch on and off their feelings,” he adds. “In part, confidence building measures are needed.”
Jordanian officials complain the destruction of Iraq’s economic infrastructure and military capability went well beyond the coalition’s UN-mandate, and the coalition should have accepted a cease-fire as proposed by King Hussein long before last week.
“The temptation of humiliating a defeated state or of imposing conditions aimed at the public humiliation of a people always [produces] results other than those intended,” says Khasawneh. “We hope that the United States will [now] aim at winning the peace instead of just trying to win a military conflict.””