Jordan king raises Jerusalem issue in Washington
Washington - As the first head of state of a Muslim country to meet with Donald Trump since the release of the US president’s travel restrictions for seven Muslim-majority countries, King Abdullah II of Jordan had a lot on his plate. As the talks unfolded, one of Trump’s controversial projects took centre stage: The plan to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Trump received the king February 2nd at the White House for what the US side described as a “good conversation”, reports said. It was not revealed whether King Abdullah raised the issue of the embassy relocation in his meeting with Trump.
Speaking to the Christian Broadcasting Network on January 27th, the day he signed the executive order placing restrictions on people from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia from travelling to the United States, Trump said he had “always liked the concept of” moving the embassy. “I’ll have a decision in the not-too-distant future,” he added.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to meet with Trump February 15th in Washington.
For Jordan, a long-time US ally and a country where Palestinians form a large part of the population, the embassy issue is a high priority. Potential unrest over Jerusalem could destabilise the kingdom. King Abdullah met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on January 22nd for talks about the possible embassy move. As Jordan’s leader, King Abdullah is the custodian of Islam’s holy sites in Jerusalem.
Jordan earlier warned that moving the embassy would cross a “red line” and could entail “catastrophic” consequences. Information Minister Mohammed Momani told the Associated Press it would be a “gift to extremists”, threatening US ties with Mideast allies.
King Abdullah used his meetings in Washington to reinforce that message. “King Abdullah warned that moving the US embassy to Jerusalem will have regional consequences that will diminish the opportunity for peace and reaching the two-state solution,” the government-owned Jordan Times reported. “It may also weaken the chances for a successful war on terror,” the king reportedly told US officials.
The BuzzFeed online portal reported that a US lawmaker who was present at a meeting of the king and members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, related that King Abdullah said even Israeli officials were concerned that moving the embassy would “enflame tensions between radical groups”.
The issue also came up in talks between King Abdullah and US Vice-President Mike Pence, a White House statement said. There was no word about what Pence told his guest. The king also met with US Defense Secretary James Mattis.
The embassy issue “touches a very sensitive chord within the Jordanian political system”, said David Mack, a former US State Department official and ambassador to the United Arab Emirates who also served in Jordan.
King Abdullah would come under criticism in Jordan and the wider region if he did not try to use his standing in Washington to change Trump’s position on the embassy, said Mack, who works at the Middle East Institute in Washington.
Trump’s travel ban is another headache for King Abdullah, whose country of less than 10 million people is hosting more than 650,000 Syrians. “If the US is now slamming its doors, they are the people that Jordan is stuck with,” Mack said.
Another aim of the king’s US visit was not to let political issues overshadow US-Jordanian ties.
“The main goal here is to establish solid relations with the new administration and secure new security and financial support” for Jordan, said David Schenker, a former Defense Department official and an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. The United States is supporting Jordan with aid amounting to more than $1 billion a year, crucial help for a country faced with high debt and high unemployment.
Schenker said there was nothing to be gained for King Abdullah in pressing the Trump administration too hard on the embassy issue and the visa restrictions. It was important “to emphasise the positive”, he said.