Jordanian King: Ties with Israel Take Back Seat to Arab Relations

Jordan’s King Abdullah has pledged he would never pursue relations with Israel “at the expense” of relations with fellow Arab countries, including Iraq, Syria, Egypt, or with the Palestinian self-rule government.

“With the new reign, we are opening a clean sheet with everyone based on mutual respect,” Abdullah told the London-based Arab-language newspaper al-Quds al- Arabi in an interview published over the weekend.

“Jordan is Arab first and last and cannot shed its skin,” said the new king.

He also said Jordan would throw its full support behind the Palestinians during final-status negotiations with Israel.

In an apparent reference to Israel, he told the paper that had promised Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat “not to allow any third party to come between us or try to play on any contradictions that may arise.”

Abdullah also said he and Arafat had pledged “to remain in direct contact in order to consult on all matters, big or small, and clear up any misunderstandings that may arise.”

He insisted that Jordan would not be “dragged” into taking a direct role in the Israeli-Palestinian final-status negotiations and would “resist all pressure that may be exerted on it in that regard.”

Jordanian officials are reportedly concerned Israel would insist that the Hashemite kingdom become directly involved in the final-status talks and that the Jewish state would make a permanent settlement with the Palestinians contingent on security guarantees from Jordan.

But Abdullah insisted that Israel must negotiate “with the party concerned, namely the Palestinian party.”

He was more guarded when asked about claims made by Arafat shortly after the February death of his father, King Hussein, that an agreement had been struck to establish a Jordanian-Palestinian confederation.

“Our doors are open to any possible formula for cooperation with the Palestinians,” said Abdullah, “but only after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the conclusion of the final-status negotiations.”

Abdullah, who is thought to have embarked on a campaign to burnish his Arab credentials, said that following his visit to Saudi Arabia this month, he is planning official visits to other countries in the Arab world, including Syria, Libya and the Persian Gulf states.

He told the paper that Jordan’s relations with Egypt were developing well and that he had established a good personal relationship with President Hosni Mubarak when they met last month.

According to the paper, Abdullah made no secret of his admiration for Bashar Assad, son and heir-apparent of Syrian President Hafez Assad, praising his vision of Syria’s future as “forward-looking, modern and aware of the political and strategic changes currently sweeping the world.”

Abdullah also said he is adopting a more moderate approach to Iraq than his late father, who had sought to atone for his perceived support of Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War by embracing a robustly pro-Western antipathy toward Iraq.

“What concerns us in Jordan is to have a united and stable Iraq whose people are not suffering,” he said, noting that Jordan “will not be a launch pad for any hostile action against Iraq.”

Referring to Jordan’s own economic problems, Abdullah said the “coming six months will be extremely decisive.” During this period, he said, “priority will be given to the economy and to providing job opportunities and meeting the needs of citizens.”

He played down suggestions that his rapprochement with Saudi Arabia was designed to restore aid from the Gulf states, severed over Hussein’s ambiguous role in the Gulf War.

Acknowledging that the Arab oil-producing states are having financial difficulties of their own, Abdullah said he had not asked the Gulf states for “aid or financial grants.”

“Rather, we look forward to genuine economic cooperation that benefits the interests of both sides, such as opening their doors to Jordanian expatriate manpower, which is qualified and experienced, and opening markets to Jordanian agricultural produce and manufactured goods.”

Abdullah said he was also hoping for “improved economic cooperation” with the West, particularly over the question of debt relief, which he said would help Jordan overcome its current economic crisis.

NEXT STORY