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15 February 2018

Jordan-US relations

By: Daoud Kuttab
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The visit by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Jordan and the signing of a five-year memorandum of understanding will go a long way in cementing the strong alliance between the two countries.
The past months have been very trying for Jordan because of the Jerusalem issue and the threats by the Trump Administration to use financial aid as a political instrument for pressure. The December 4th statement by the US president has united Jordanians of all origins behind His Majesty King Abdullah and his role as custodian of the holy places in Jerusalem. Jordanians of Palestinian origin and East Bank Jordanians have united behind the King and his firm position. Ideologically, Jordanians from the left, the right and from secular to Islamist have all been supportive of the need to have the status of Jerusalem decided in negotiations and not by dictate.
The tensions were lowered considerably with the recent visit by US Vice President Mike Pence and the Trump administration’s expressed willingness to “agree to disagree” on the Jerusalem declaration issue.
The political, economic and strategic sensitivity of Jordan has allowed its western allies to rally behind it despite the fact that Gulf countries had isolated it. Jordan is going through a difficult situation in which the presence of nearly 2 million Syrian, Iraqi, Sudanese, Yemeni and other refugees in the country has exacted a big toll on its infrastructure and coffers.
The Jordanian-American relations have seen a major improvement in the past years largely due to the unique relations of King Abdullah with all sectors of the American government. The King’s relations with congress have reflected in a bipartisan support that witnessed an increase in aid to Jordan more than what was requested by the White House.
The deepening cooperation between Amman and Washington needs to be strengthened and improved in the political arena as well. Jordan can play a positive role in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations on the condition that there are clear and acceptable terms of reference. Jordan, which had initiated when Marwan Muasher was the foreign minister the roadmap to peace, can play now an important role with Ayman Safadi in restarting the peace talks. Jordanian-Palestinian relations have never been as good as they are now, and this means that Amman can play a positive role in restarting peace talks that could revive hopes in a just settlement based on land for peace and the Arab peace plan.
In order for Jordan and the United States to be able to play a positive role, there is a need to fill the nearly one-year vacant post of US ambassador. The current US Chargé d’Affaires Henry Wooster, a veteran civil servant of the US foreign service, has done a good job in nurturing and steering the relations in a positive way despite the difficulties of the past few months. Since it appears clear that there will be no specific political appointment to the post, it would make perfect sense to upgrade the current chargé d’affaires to the position of ambassador. There is a precedent in this area. At least one former US ambassador to Amman was also promoted to the position after being chargé d’affaires in Amman. David Hale, Washington’s ambassador to Jordan took up his position in 2005 nearly one year after holding the positions of deputy chief of mission and chargé d’affaires the year before.
The need to strengthen Jordanian-US relations is a win-win proposal. Although Jordan is a relatively small country, its strategic importance is not to be minimised on both regional and international levels, especially in the fight against extremism and in the need for moderate open societies in a region that has suffered from radical, religiously imposed systems that have set the region backward.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net

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