Jordan’s King Abdullah to meet with Obama

Friday 19/02/2016
United States is the largest aid donor to Jordan

AMMAN - When Jordan’s King Abdullah II visits the White House on February 24th, US President Barack Obama will hear several requests, primarily a plea to con­tinue pounding Islamic State (ISIS) militants and to push harder for a solution to the Syrian crisis.
Equally important, Abdullah will seek additional US financial aid to support Jordanian programmes for hosting 1.6 million Syrian and Iraqi refugees and to solidify the cash-strapped country’s finances, dampened by spending on the ref­ugees, a growing foreign debt and a record deficit.
A restart of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks, which stalled years ago with no sign they will soon re­sume, will also figure high on the Jordanian agenda of talks, accord­ing to a statement by the Royal Hashemite Court.
But Jordanian analyst Moham­mad Abu-Rumman said the refu­gees are Jordan’s top priority.
“Jordan’s strategy of deal­ing with the Syrian refugees has changed,” he said. “Today, there’s a conviction by the decision-mak­ers, based on international studies, that Jordan’s previous stance that the refugees are only here tempo­rarily and they will soon return home was a big mistake.
“From previous global experi­ences, the average stay of a refugee in a host country is 17 years and eventually only half of them end up returning home.
“Therefore, we’re now talking about absorbing, not settling, the refugees.”
That situation demands long-term strategies and programmes to incorporate the refugees into the labour market, he said.
As a first step, Abu-Rumman suggested, Jordan must create job opportunities for the newcomers, which require new investment and assistance from the international community.
Jordan, situated in a precarious corner of the volatile Middle East, feels squeezed by hotspots Israel and the Palestinian territories to its West, Iraq to its east and Syria to its north.
An influx of 1.3 million Syrian refugees — half of them under the aegis of the UN refugee agency and the rest living off state funds and services — and more than 300,000 Iraqis have strained Jordan’s mea­gre resources and exhausted its health care and education services. Jordan says it has spent more than $6.6 billion on Syrian refugees.
Jordan’s energy costs hit unprec­edented levels, eating up much of its foreign aid assistance, swell­ing its international borrowing and increasing its budget deficit.
Additionally, more is being spent on border control. Special radar equipment has been installed and more Jordanian patrols were de­ployed to ensure that violence in Iraq and Syria would not expand across the borders and militants could not cross into Jordan.
Mounting Palestinian violence in the West Bank, lately over what is seen as Israeli provocation at a sacred Muslim shrine in tradition­ally Arab East Jerusalem, is also of concern to Jordan. About half of Jordan’s 6.6 million population includes Palestinian families and their descendants who fled or were driven out of their homes in the 1948 and 1967 Middle East wars.
The pro-US kingdom, one of two Arab countries after Egypt to have a signed peace treaty with Israel, is an arch-enemy of ISIS and other militants. The kingdom is an ac­tive member of two coalitions, led by the United States and Russia, pounding militant strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
Political commentator Fahd Kheitan said Abdullah’s talks with Obama will not be limited to Syr­ian refugees. “He will discuss the situation in Syria and the military and security options available as well as international efforts to fight Daesh and US financial aid to Jor­dan,” Kheitan said, using the Ara­bic acronym for ISIS.
The United States is the largest aid donor to Jordan, contributing more than $1 billion annually to Amman.
At a conference on assisting Syr­ian refugees and countries hosting them earlier in February, donor countries pledged more than $10 billion in aid for three years start­ing in 2016. Jordan said it was promised billions of dollars in cash and soft loans to create jobs for ref­ugees. It said Europe promised to ease restrictions on imports from Jordan to encourage job creation for refugees.
Nevertheless, Jordan said it hoped that donors will make good on their promises.
The palace statement said Ab­dullah’s talks with Obama are ex­pected to “cover the strategic part­nership between Jordan and the United States, especially in light of the kingdom’s important role in the region, including its generosity in hosting Syrian refugees”.
Abdullah and Obama will also “tackle global efforts to combat terrorism and extremism across the Middle East, Africa, and the world”, the statement said. It said both leaders would review the lat­est developments on efforts to “re­solve the Syrian conflict through the political process”.
Discussions on how to “end the Israeli-Palestinian impasse and ad­vance prospects for a two-state so­lution will also be on the meeting’s agenda”, the statement concluded.
Last year, Abdullah visited the United States where he met with senior administration officials and congressional leaders.